China's finance minister said he expects growth in the world's second-largest economy to come in at 7 percent this year, the official Xinhua news agency said on Friday, which would be below the government's official forecast.
Lou Jiwei, speaking in Washington, was quoted as saying that 7 percent growth should not be considered as the bottom line, and that while the economy was slowing there would not be a hard landing.
China's official growth target for this year is 7.5 percent, which would be its slowest in 23 years.
"Despite the slowdown of China's economic growth rate, the structural reform is paying off," Xinhua quoted Lou as saying on the sidelines of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue.
"While we cannot verify what Minister Lou meant, it seems unlikely to us as the 7.5% [growth target] was approved just four months ago at the National People's Congress (NPC)," Zhiwei Zhang, chief China economist at Nomura said.
Premier Li Keqiang has referenced the country's economic targets on several occasions in recent months with no mention of any revisions, he added, noting that an adjustment to the target may require approval from the NPC.
"We regard the quote with caution and wait for any clarification from the government," Zhang said.
Last month, Vice President Li Yuanchao said China would be able to maintain a 7 percent economic growth rate in the future.
Chinese authorities, worried about over-investment and strong growth in informal lending, have indicated they are prepared to tolerate slower economic growth rates as they drive through structural reforms.
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Economists polled by Reuters expect GDP data due on Monday to show the economy grew at an annual rate of 7.5 percent in the second quarter, slowing from 7.7 percent in the first quarter.
"In the first quarter the growth rate was 7.7 percent, and the rate in the first half of this year will be slightly lower than 7.7 percent," Xinhua said, paraphrasing Lou's remarks.
"There is no doubt that China can achieve the growth target, though the 7 percent goal should not be considered as the bottom line."