The overriding sense emanating from the key policy statements during this year's National People's Congress (NPC) was one of a job half done.
This is entirely understandable in areas relating to regional development and the narrowing of the east-west wealth gap. The New Socialist Countryside model trumpeted so loudly at the 2006 NPC is still very much a work in progress. It is in meeting their macroeconomic goals that China's leaders have failed.
Premier Wen Jiabao has admitted as much.
"China's investment growth is too high, lending growth too fast, liquidity excessive and trade and international payments very imbalanced," he said at his post-NPC press conference.
Much has been made of commitments to rein in the economy but, by most indications, China has started 2007 at a faster pace than 2006. Export growth was up 41.5% in January and February, compared to 27% in 2006; growth in industrial output, down to 15% at the end of last year, hit 18.5%; bank lending growth was 17% to 2006's 13%; and the February trade surplus hit US$24 billion, nine times the figure for a year earlier.
The investment and export-driven growth China has relied upon so far is supposed to be replaced by a model that places greater emphasis on private consumption, value-added growth and efficient use of resources.
China's 2006 progress report on these issues is not positive and Wen pledged to take decisive action. Success or failure, this may well be the battle history remembers him for.
Economic tightening measures are sure to follow – indeed, interest rates were increased shortly after the NPC – but the interesting element of the challenge the government faces is just how deeply and effectively its controls can extend.
According to the Development Report of China's Regional Economy, the country is already on course to miss its 2004-2020 energy-saving target (quadrupling 2000-level GDP using only twice the amount of energy). The reason for this is the excessive amounts of energy provincial governments plan to consume over the next five years.
Provincial officials have fought tooth and nail for foreign investment and growth-rate bragging rights over the years. Instead of promotion being tied to industrial performance, Beijing must convince local governments that quality and efficiency are the criteria that really count.
Wen will have to take a tough line to keep everyone on message – and China on course.
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