Premier Li Keqiang has lowered China's 2015 economic growth target to "approximately seven percent" in his opening speech to the annual National People's Congress.

The announcement in Beijing comes after China's economy expanded 7.4 percent in 2014, the slowest pace in 24 years.

China also lowered its target for annual inflation to "around three percent," Li said in his "work report" to the NPC, the country's Communist-controlled legislature which will be meeting behind closed doors for the next 10 days.

The lowering of the economic growth target was widely expected by economists and reflects the reality of a multi-year slowdown in the Asian giant that has seen it come off regular annual double-digit expansions.

"Over the past year, the international and domestic environments faced by China in its development have been complicated and challenging," Li said.

"The road to global economic recovery has been rough, with many ups and downs, and the performance of the major economies has been divergent.

"Downward pressure on China's economy has continued to mount, and we have faced an array of interwoven difficulties and challenges."

Taiwan relations 

Li also said that he was confident of the peaceful growth in relations with self-ruled Taiwan, an island China claims as its own, saying it was a historic trend that could not be reversed.

Cross-strait business ties have surged to their most extensive in six decades, supported by the policies of Taiwan's China-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou.

But Taiwan's ruling Nationalist party took a major drubbing in recent local elections largely seen as a referendum on ties with China.

That followed a weeks-long occupation of Taiwan's legislature last spring by students and activists in protest against a trade deal with China.

Li made no direct mention of the protests or the Taiwan elections, but said he wished to make progress on relations.

"We will strive to make progress in discussion and dialogue between the two sides of the strait, advance cross-strait economic integration for mutual benefit and promote local and youth exchanges," he said.

"We are firmly confident that the peaceful growth of cross-strait relations is a historical trend that can be neither resisted nor reversed.".

Taiwan holds presidential elections early next year.

The Nationalists fled across the narrow Taiwan Strait after losing a civil war to the Chinese Communists in 1949.

China considers Taiwan a renegade province, and has never renounced the use of force to bring it under Beijing's control.

Source: Agencies