Xi hails China’s economic growth despite pandemic setback

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Xi Jinping

In this photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a New Year’s address in Beijing, Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020. China has made major progress in developing its economy and eradicating rural poverty over the past year despite the coronavirus pandemic, Xi said.(Ju Peng/Xinhua via AP)

BEIJING (AP) — China has made major progress in developing its economy and eradicating rural poverty over the past year despite the coronavirus pandemic, Chinese President Xi Jinping said in a New Year address Thursday.

China was the first major economy to register positive economic growth in 2020, with its gross domestic product expected to exceed 100 trillion yuan (almost $14 trillion) for the year, Xi said on nationwide television, speaking from behind his desk in his wood-paneled office.

The International Monetary Fund forecast in October that China, the world’s second-largest economy, would grow 1.9% in 2020, a sharp slowdown from its 6.1% gain in 2019, and then expand 8.2% in 2021.

That compares with an IMF forecast for a global economic contraction of 4.4% for 2020, the worst plunge since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

China has largely ended domestic transmission of the coronavirus, but Xi’s speech came as the government is ordering additional measures to prevent a resurgence over coming months.

China is encouraging tens of millions of migrant workers not to travel home during February’s Lunar New Year holiday to prevent further spread of the coronavirus, disrupting the most important family gathering of the year. Schools nationwide are also scheduled to begin the Lunar New Year vacation a week early and tourists have been told not to visit the capital Beijing during the holiday.

Xi called for increased international cooperation in fighting the virus, which is believed to have emerged from the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.

“People across the world should make joint efforts to drive away the dark clouds of the COVID-19 pandemic at an early date and build the planet Earth into a better home for all humanity,” Xi said.

Xi also hailed progress in lifting close to 100 million rural Chinese out of poverty over the last eight years and in “fully building a moderately prosperous society in all respects.”

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