03/05/2021, 12.31
CHINA
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Li Keqiang to NPC: electoral reform in Hong Kong, threats to Taiwan and 'vaccine diplomacy'

Beijing wants to choose the Hong Kong parliament members. Fight against foreign interference. Military spending increases: the goal is to prevent Taipei's independence. $ 62 billion spent to contain the pandemic. Few vaccinated at home as many supplies sent abroad.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – The fight against foreign interference and a new electoral law for Hong Kong; increased military spending despite the Covid-19 pandemic; harsh tones towards Taiwan and "vaccine diplomacy": In addition to the measures for economic recovery, these are the key points of the speech on government activity that Premier Li Keqiang gave this morning at the opening of the annual session of the National People's Congress (NPC).

Together with the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, which opened yesterday, the NPC is called upon to formalize decisions already taken by President Xi Jinping and the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

On Hong Kong, Li called for a comprehensive and accurate” implementation of “one country, two systems”. Many critics argue that with the systematic repression of traditional citizen freedoms, in reality only the "one country" element remained.

He then indicated the desire to "protect" the city from foreign interference, which must be "prevented". In order to repel similar interference, also fuelled by people who occupy "public positions", Beijing wants to reform the city’s electoral system: it must be "democratic", but with "Hong Kong characteristics". For the Chinese authorities, the former British colony must be ruled only by "patriots".

Wang Chen, vice president of the NPC Standing Committee, said the plan is to assign additional powers to the electoral committee (controlled by Beijing) which chooses the Hong Kong chief executive. With the constitutional amendment, it will also have the task of evaluating all the candidates in the elections of the Legco (the city Parliament) and of electing a "large" part of them.

At the moment, half of the 70 deputies are directly elected; the other 35 are indirectly chosen from among the representatives of the industrial sector, the trade union sector and the professions. With the reform, several analysts argue that the democratic opposition will be eliminated.

The pandemic has not stopped the Chinese race for rearmament. The military budget for 2021 was set at 1.355 billion yuan (210 billion dollars), an annual increase of 6.8%, a slight increase compared to that decided in 2020 (+ 6.6%).

Due to Covid-19, analysts had anticipated a smaller growth in military spending (around 6%); however, the regime aims to have a "strong army" by 2027. The US, which is countering the rise of China, will have a military budget of around 934 billion dollars.

Beijing sees Taiwan as a "rebel province" and this is one of the reasons behind the large Chinese investment in boosting military capabilities. In his speech, Li said China is working on "peaceful reunification" with Taipei.

However, according to the Global Times, the premier used harsher terms than last year. The nationalist tabloid linked to the CCP, reports Li saying that the government "will remain highly vigilant against and resolutely deter any separatist activity", he did not rule out the use of force to recapture the island.

Li explained that China is still vulnerable to the coronavirus. Vaccines for the population will be free. He pointed out that authorities spent 402 billion yuan ($ 62 billion) last year to contain the pandemic. The premier also highlighted the support provided to other nations during the health crisis. Several countries, including the US, accuse Beijing of using foreign vaccine supplies to obtain geopolitical advantages. According to Our World in Data, 3.7 million doses of the vaccine had been administered in China as of February 28, a rather low figure (the US stands at 25 million; the UK at 32.3 million). At the same time, the Chinese government said it had supplied vaccines to 53 countries and exported them to 27 others.

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