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China's 1st-quarter GDP growth steady at 6.8%

In this April 13, 2018, photo, a China Shipping container ship is seen at a port in Qingdao in eastern China's Shandong province. (Chinatopix Via AP)

BEIJING (Kyodo) -- China's economy grew 6.8 percent from a year earlier in the first three months of 2018, official data showed Tuesday, with strong property development investment and consumption pushing the figure well above the government's target of around 6.5 percent for the year.

    The headline figure, slightly better than analyst consensus, was unchanged from the previous two quarters' 6.8-percent expansion in the country's gross domestic product. The economy had grown 6.9 percent in the first two quarters of last year.

    "The national economy maintained the momentum of steady and sound development, the transformation and upgrading was pushed forward steadily, the economic performance continued to improve and the economy was off to a good start," the National Bureau of Statistics said.

    While President Xi Jinping has pledged to further open up the world's second-largest economy and strengthen the protection of intellectual property rights, trade tensions with the United States may still intensify, posing potential risks to the economy.

    If both countries proceed to implement proposed tariffs on each other's products, it could imperil the stable economic growth Xi is seeking in order to attain his government's goal of building a "moderately prosperous society" in the world's most populous nation.

    China is aiming to re-engineer its growth model, from driven by massive state-led spending to a domestic consumption-led economy, tolerating a moderate slowdown to carry out difficult reforms along the way.

    The data showed investment in real estate development rose 10.4 percent from a year earlier, while fixed asset investment, including spending on infrastructure, rose 7.5 percent.

    Retail sales of consumer goods logged a year-on-year increase of 9.8 percent. Online retail sales surged 35.4 percent on the back of the rapid spread of e-commerce shopping.

    For the January-March period, a number of analysts had predicted that China's economic growth would slip to 6.7 percent.

    Trade tensions with the United States began rising sharply only in late March, making it unlikely that they had much impact on economic activity in the first quarter.

    In 2017, China's economy expanded 6.9 percent from the previous year.

    Many analysts remain skeptical about whether the Chinese economy will expand at the same pace this year, with regulators taking steps to restrain the overheated property market and protect the environment.

    Efforts by the Chinese leadership to rein in mounting local government debt, coupled with suspensions in public works projects in some parts of China, could weigh on the economy down the road.

    To realize the moderately prosperous society, defined by Beijing as doubling its 2010 GDP and per capita income by 2020, China's economy needs to expand at an average annual rate of around 6.5 percent until then.

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