China boosts spending for virus-hit economy, takes up HK law

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A Chinese paramilitary policeman stands guard near Tiananmen Square before the opening session of China's National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, May 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, Pool)

BEIJING – China’s No. 2 leader on Friday promised higher spending to revive its pandemic-stricken economy and curb surging job losses but avoided launching a massive stimulus on the scale of the United States or Japan.

Premier Li Keqiang told lawmakers Beijing would set no economic growth target, usually a closely watched feature of government plans, in order to focus on fighting the outbreak. The virus battle “has not yet come to an end,” Li warned.

Also Friday, legislators took up a proposed national security law for Hong Kong that activists complain might be used to suppress political activity. The Trump administration has warned it might withdraw the former British colony's preferential trade status if the “high degree of autonomy" promised by the mainland is eroded.

The coronavirus pandemic that prompted China to isolate cities with a total population of 60 million people added to strains for the ruling Communist Party that include anti-government protests in Hong Kong and a tariff war with Washington.

China has reported 83,000 virus cases and 4,634 deaths from the virus. It was the first country to shut down factories, shops and travel to fight the pandemic and the first to reopen in March but it is still struggling to revive activity.

Private sector analysts say as much as 30% of the urban workforce, or as many as 130 million people, have lost their jobs at least temporarily. They say as many as 25 million jobs might be lost for good this year.

Beijing will give local governments 2 trillion yuan ($280 billion) to spend on meeting goals including creating 9 million new jobs, Li said. That is in line with expectations for higher spending but a fraction of the $1 trillion-plus stimulus packages launched or discussed by the United States, Japan and Europe.

“These are extraordinary measures for an unusual time,” the premier said in the nationally televised speech.