BEIJING -- China's housing chief on Tuesday said the country is not heading toward a property-bubble collapse of the kind Japan experienced in the early 1990s, despite signs of overheating in some major cities.
"Such comparisons cannot be drawn," Chen Zhenggao, the minister of housing and urban-rural development, told reporters on the sidelines of China's annual parliamentary session, adding that the political and economic conditions in Japan at the time were different from those in China today.
"We are in different stages of urbanization and economic development, and we have different macroeconomic policies," he said.
China's property market has seen an uneven recovery since last year. In the first two months of this year, housing sales rose nearly 50% on the year, according to official data released Saturday.
Prices in first-tier cities such as Shanghai rose nearly 20% on the year in January despite government easing measures to slash property taxes and reduce down payments for first-time buyers. However, lower-tier cities are still plagued by a supply glut.
Property investment was up 3% during the January-February period after five months of contraction, compared to a decline of 3.2% in the quarter ended December.
"Housing sales are stabilizing," said Chen, reiterating that China's long-term growth prospects and continued urbanization would create "healthy conditions" for the property market.
China's development blueprint for 2016-2020 calls for raising the urbanization rate to 60% from the current 56.1%. Chinese leaders also announced an economic growth target of 6.5-7% for 2016, the lowest in a quarter century.
But analysts warn of headwinds in the property sector despite signs of recovery.
"We are concerned -- just as the policymakers are -- that this recovery is built on increasingly shaky ground," Wei Yao, a China analyst at Societe Generale, wrote in a note Monday, adding that some have likened the current housing situation to last year's equity bubble.
The most "ominous parallel," she said, is the rise of lending through unregulated "shadow banks." The analyst warned that the trend could push the loan-to-value ratio above the 30% minimum down payment required for first-time buyers in first-tier cities.
People's Bank of China Gov. Zhou Xiaochuan has played down the risk of rising home prices in major cities, saying the lending standards are still high by international standards.
"Overall, the property market is facing relatively big destocking pressure," he told reporters Saturday, adding that the government will have to take into account the overall situation of the market, where oversupply is still prevalent in smaller cities.
Financial regulators said they would clamp down the illegal use of Internet financing platforms by property developers and agencies to offer unregulated loans to homebuyers.