China’s Finance Minister said on Thursday that creating jobs is the government’s priority this year and economic growth below the official target of 7.5 per cent might be acceptable.

The economic target announced this week is “about 7.5 per cent,” which could mean growth might be lower than that, Lou Jiwei said at a news conference during the annual meeting of China’s legislature.

Wednesday’s announcement that the growth target would be kept at last year’s level raised questions about whether Beijing can achieve it while also carrying out ambitious economic reforms. Some analysts suggested the government might have to cut interest rates or take other steps to shore up growth, temporarily setting back efforts to make the economy more market-oriented.

“If this year’s economic growth isn’t 7.5 per cent it is 7.3 per cent or 7.2 per cent does that count as about 7.5 per cent? It can count,” Mr. Lou said. “Employment is our most important goal.”

The employment target, also announced on Wednesday, calls for 10 million new urban jobs this year, and Lou said the economy might be able to create as many as 13 million.

China’s economic growth tumbled to a two-decade low of 7.7 per cent last year. The International Monetary Fund and private sector forecasters expect growth of about 7.5 per cent this year.

Keeping the growth target at 7.5 per cent is meant to “maintain market confidence and in part out of the concern that more notable slowing in the economy could hurt the labor market,” said JP Morgan economist Cui Tiange in a report.

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