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China's government will aim for economic growth of about 8 per cent next year, even as it faces a tougher time boosting domestic consumption as a driver of growth, its industry minister said on Monday.

The disclosure by Li Yizhong, Minister of Industry and Information Technology, was the first public mention of the official aim for next year's growth.

The target of 8 per cent is the same that Beijing has set for the past several years, even at times when the economy grew by 13 per cent, so it should not be seen as binding but rather as guidance for policy-making.

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Economists widely expect the world's third-largest economy to grow by close to 9 per cent next year, after finishing this year up by over 8 per cent. The economy grew 7.7 per cent in the first three quarters from a year earlier, but has strengthened since.

"According to the economic growth target of about 8 per cent decided by the central government, we target industrial output growth at about 11 per cent," Li Yizhong, Minister of Industry and Information Technology, said in a work conference broadcast on the ministry's website.

Mr. Li added that he expected industrial output to grow by 11 per cent this year as well.

That would imply further strength in industrial production in December after it rose an annual 19.2 per cent in November, given that output in the first 11 months as a whole grew 10.3 per cent from a year earlier.

Mr. Li reaffirmed the government's aim of increasing consumption as a growth engine, but said that it would be harder to find new ways to do so following the introduction of a host of measures this year aimed at stoking demand for cars and home appliances.

Overheating?

After encouraging an explosion in credit at the start of this year and implementing a massive fiscal stimulus program to foster growth, authorities are now setting their sights on tough structural reforms that will wean the economy off its dependence on exports and related investments.

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However, their attention could be diverted by the more immediate concern of fighting overheating, a central bank researcher cautioned in comments published on Monday.

Jiao Jinpu, deputy head of the People's Bank of China's post-graduate school, cited the rapid rise in the more narrow measure of money supply, M1, in recent months as an indication that money is flowing at a faster pace.

That measure grew 34.6 per cent in November from a year earlier, compared with 29.7 per cent for the broad M2 measure.

"Judging from the accelerated money circulation, the next round of economic overheating is coming soon," Mr. Jiao said, according to the official China Securities Journal.

In a separate opinion piece in the same newspaper, Fan Jianping, a senior economist with the State Information Centre, a think-tank under China's economic planning agency, said Beijing would target 18 per cent growth in M2 in 2010 and aim to keep bank loans below 8 trillion yuan ($1.17-trillion).

Mr. Fan forecast 31 per cent growth in urban fixed-asset investment, 2.5 per cent consumer inflation and 18.5 per cent growth in retail sales next year.

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Urban investment rose 32.1 per cent in the first 11 months of this year compared with the same period a year earlier, while retail sales were up an annual 15.8 per cent in November.

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