November 30, 2008 -- Updated 0348 GMT (1148 HKT)

BEIJING, China (AP) -- Chinese President Hu Jintao warned that China has started to lose its competitive edge in trade amid the global financial crisis as he told Communist Party leaders the challenge posed a test to the government's ability to rule.

China's economic growth is expected to fall to about 9 percent this year, down from last year's 11.9 percent. That would be the fastest decline of any major economy, but Chinese leaders worry about possible unrest as unemployment rises, especially in export industries where factories are shutting down as global demand plummets.

"External demand has obviously weakened and China 's traditional competitive advantage is being gradually weakened," Hu said, according to the Communist Party's official People's Daily newspaper.

Hu told members of the Communist Party's powerful Political Bureau that the financial meltdown posed critical challenges to a government that has staked its legitimacy in part on competent management of a rapidly developing society.

"Whether the pressures can be turned into a driving force and the challenges turned to opportunities ... is a test of our ability to control a complex situation, and also a test of our party's governing ability," Hu said.

Hu urged party leaders to step up efforts to reform its economic growth model to achieve development that is sustainable.

He said greater effort should be made to raise living standards, use resources more efficiently and develop rural and urban areas, the report said.

The remarks come after China 's top economic planner Zhang Ping, chairman of the Cabinet's National Development and Reform Commission, warned Thursday that the impact of the global financial crisis is worsening and that rising job losses could fuel instability.

But a government researcher said that despite the impact of the global slowdown, the country's economy is expected to grow by 10 percent next year as domestic consumption grows with rising personal incomes.

"Personal income continues to increase as millions of migrant workers flow into the city to get their lives improved. Enlarging demand for houses and autos will form huge and lasting consuming power," said Zhang Liqun, a researcher at a think tank attached to the Cabinet's planning agency.

On Wednesday, Beijing announced its biggest interest rate cut in 11 years to increase consumer and company spending. A multibillion-dollar stimulus package launched on November 9 aims to boost growth through heavy new spending on construction, tax cuts and aid to the poor and farmers.

Beijing plans to spend 18 trillion yuan ($2.6 trillion) in 2009 alone to help blunt the impact of the global financial crisis, using the immense capital accumulated over years of double-digit economic growth and booming exports to build railways, roads, airports and electricity networks.


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