China's finance minister has said he expects the nation's economy to grow seven percent this year, raising questions about whether it can achieve the official 7.5 percent target set four months ago.
"Our expected GDP growth rate this year is seven percent," Lou Jiwei told reporters on the sidelines of an annual strategic and economic dialogue between China and the United States in Washington on Thursday.
"Of course, it won't be a big problem for us if we achieve growth of seven percent or 6.5 percent."
His comments come as growth in the Asian powerhouse -- the second-largest economy in the world -- shows signs of slowing down and could indicate its leaders are prepared to tolerate much weaker expansion.
China's official 7.5 percent growth target was announced at a Communist Party parliamentary meeting in March. The goal is normally declared conservatively, so that it is regularly exceeded in practice.
But Lou's remarks come as worries mount over China's growth prospects following a slew of weak data on manufacturing and exports.
China is due to announce gross domestic (GDP) product figures for the second quarter on Monday. The median forecast in a survey of 10 economists by AFP was for GDP growth of 7.5 percent.
"As for the first half of this year, the figures will be released in a few days and we think it will be slightly lower than 7.7 percent but not far from it," said Lou.
He was speaking after Premier Li Keqiang indicated the government might take steps to support the economy as he was reported to have emphasised the importance of stabilising growth and preventing it slipping below the "lower limit".
China's economy grew 7.8 percent in 2012, racking up its worst performance in 13 years. Despite optimism that this year would be better, first-quarter growth slowed to 7.7 percent.
Leaders have stated they want to wean the country off reliance on exports and investments as growth drivers for the economy and make domestic demand the primary engine in a bid to help consumers enjoy the fruits of the country's decades of strong expansion.