China sees fewest births in 2018 since Mao's Great Famine

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Gross domestic product rose 6.4 per cent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, matching economists' estimates, and compared with 6.5 per cent in the previous three-month period.

After years of breakneck growth, the world's second largest economy is losing steam, evidenced by slowing consumer spending, manufacturing output, and investment. But the slowdown has been sharper than expected, prompting Beijing to boost spending on construction of roads and bridges and to order banks to lend more, especially to the entrepreneurs who generate most of China's new jobs and wealth.

"The NBS is part of the government. that is why it is legitimate for the outside world to worry about potential adjustment of data on the economy", said Louis Kuijs of Oxford Economics. "That announcement was highly anticipated by many around the world amid Beijing's ongoing trade dispute with the USA, its largest trading partner".

The figure is far short of the target of more than 18 million births that the party had hoped to reach to address a rapidly ageing population and the pressures it places on healthcare services and pension provision. But they contracted in December as the penalties began to depress USA demand.

Numbers released by the National Bureau of Statistics on Monday put the population at 1.395 billion in 2018, marking a growth rate of 3.81 percent over the previous year.

The slowdown is adding to pressure on President Xi Jinping's government to settle its dispute with Washington.

The two sides have imposed tariff hikes of up to 25 percent on tens of billions of dollars of each other's goods in the fight over US complaints that Beijing steals or pressures companies to hand over technology.

The government's cut in individual taxes from October past year may have played a hand in lifting consumer spending slightly based in December but analysts at Capital Economics said such impact is not likely to be long lasting.

China's top trade envoy, Vice Premier Liu He, is due to visit Washington for talks January 30-31.

Business groups and economists said a decision by Liu and his American counterpart, Robert Lighthizer, to get directly involved would suggest earlier talks by lower-level officials made progress.

China and the United States have been engaged in a trade war since US President Donald Trump announced in June that $50 billion worth of Chinese goods would be subject to 25 percent tariffs in a bid to fix the US-Chinese trade deficit.

That was just ahead of the slowest pace of growth past year at 7.7 percent recorded for October.

The real estate sector is a key pillar of the economy, so any further weakness in sales could influence the pace and scope of fresh stimulus measures expected from Beijing this year. However, they have pushed back the time frame for that due to weakening exports.