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China has 'ample' room for stimulus: Premier Li

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[BEIJING] The Chinese government has more weapons in its arsenal to boost the world's second-largest economy, Premier Li Keqiang said Sunday as he sought to ease concerns about flagging growth.

Li earlier this month decreased China's annual growth target to "approximately seven per cent", the lowest since a similar goal in 2004, after the economy expanded 7.4 per cent last year, the slowest pace in nearly a quarter of a century.

Fears are on the rise that Chinese expansion, a key driver of the global economy, may slow further after official data released last week showed the country's production, consumption and investment growth all fell to multi-year lows.

Authorities have so far avoided big-ticket incentives to bolster growth like the unprecedented four-trillion-yuan stimulus package Beijing deployed at the height of the global financial crisis.

But Li signalled that more measures could be taken, telling reporters at his annual press conference: "We still have a host of policy instruments at our disposal." Beijing was prepared to "step up our targeted macro-economic regulation" to boost market confidence if growth slowed to approach the "lower limit of our proper range" and threatened employment and incomes.

"The good news is that in the past couple of years, we did not resort to massive stimulus measures for economic growth," he said after the close of the country's Communist-controlled National People's Congress legislature, adding that gave authorities "fairly ample room" to act.

Top Chinese leaders have said the economy is in a delicate transition phase away from decades of double-digit annual growth to a new, slower model that authorities say is more sustainable, a stage that they have branded as "new normal".

But underlining official concerns, the central People's Bank of China cut benchmark deposit and lending interest rates in late February for the second time in three months, citing "historically low inflation".