Li Keqiang praises China’s past and future achievements
by Wang Zhicheng

At the opening of the National People's Congress, the prime minister reassures the country about financial risks, promising 6.5 per cent growth, as well as greater efforts against poverty, overproduction and pollution. Military expenses are set to increase by 8.1 per cent. Nothing is said about constitutional changes in favour of Xi Jinping.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – At today’s opening of the National People's Congress (ANP), Prime Minister Li Keqiang has listed all the successes achieved by the country in recent years and proposed future ones, based on greater openness to foreign investment, an increase in the defence budget, and the fight against pollution and poverty.

The NPC is China’s parliament and is often deemed just an echo for decisions made by the Communist Party of China (CPC). The approximately 3,000 delegates began their annual session today. Over the next ten days, they are supposed to vet the actions of the government and vote on laws proposed by the Standing Committee. Since it was established, it has always voted for what was placed before it.

The meeting is taking place a few months after the CPC Congress, held in October and a few weeks after the Party proposed to change the constitution and drop the limit of two terms for the offices of the president and vice-president.

The change will certainly be approved by a large majority, boosting Xi Jinping’s hold on power. Li paid tribute to Xi's leadership, stating that the Party and the armed forces must obey him.

A two-hour report

In the two-hour report, which reviewed the policies of the past five years, Li said that the country had successfully managed economic downward pressure and avoided an economic “hard landing”.

He went on to say that the government managed to transform the economy from one relying on investments and exports to one more centred on services, domestic demand and industrial production.

The country has become a world leader in high-speed trains, e-commerce and mobile payments.

Its investment in research and development have grown at an average annual rate of 11 per cent, some 68 million people have been lifted out of poverty, and a basic pension has been introduced for more than 900 million people.

To curb overproduction, the authorities plan to phase out 30 million tonnes of steel capacity and 150 million tonnes of coal in 2018.

Growth at 6.5 per cent

By maintaining 6.5 per cent growth, Li pledged that the jobless rate will remain under 5.5 per cent.

He said that the authorities now included the “surveyed jobless rate” in the government report for the first time because this jobless rate covers the country’s migrant workers and reflects its real employment situation. Previously China only used the urban registered jobless rate, which does not cover the country’s 270 million migrant workers, who leave their rural homes to seek jobs in cities and towns.

This year the government wants to lift out of poverty another ten million people in rural communities and relocate 2.8 million others.

On pollution – considered the top issue by ordinary Chinese – Li promised more stringent law enforcement, as well as a greater food safety, another issue that scares the population.

Overtures and threats

The prime minister promised that China would continue to open up its markets – including the telecoms, health care, education and new-energy vehicle sectors – and remove foreign ownership caps on banks, brokerage houses and fund management firms.

Recently, more and more foreign banks have said they might pull out of China, tired of unkept promises about the liberalisation of the banking sector.

Whilst promising to make it easier for overseas Chinese to work and open businesses in the mainland, he also warned the people of Hong Kong and Taiwan against seeking independence.

Li said Beijing would continue to implement, both to the letter and in spirit, the principle of “one country, two systems” and fully support the economies of Hong Kong and Macau.

Likewise, he also said that the Taiwanese will have the same possibilities as other Chinese to work, study and get medical treatment on the mainland.

Armed Forces

Li pledged that the country will continue to build a first-class military, advancing “all aspects of military training and war preparedness, and firmly and resolvedly safeguarding national sovereignty, security and development interests”. He added that the Armed Forces must be tough.

He gave no figures, but a report issued on the sidelines of the NPC announced an increase in defence spending of 8.1 per cent this year to 1.1 trillion yuan (US$ 175 billion).

According to many analysts, Chinese military spending is twice that figure. Many of the expenses – such as lighthouses, runways, buildings built in the disputed islands of the South China Sea – are counted as civilian costs rather than military.

The 36-page report did not mention other issues that have made the headlines in recent months, most notably proposed changes to the constitution – with the inclusion of the thoughts of Xi Jinping alongside Mao’s – and the prospects that Xi Jinping might remain in power for life.