Chinese legislative session to focus on economy

BEIJING — When China’s legislature opened its week-long annual session on Saturday, Chinese leaders were eager to use the event to bolst...


BEIJING — When China’s legislature opened its week-long annual session on Saturday, Chinese leaders were eager to use the event to bolster confidence in the country’s economy.

Beijing has used the National People’s Congress to pledge that China’s economy, the engine of global growth, will regain momentum despite a painful housing crisis, rising commodity prices, scattered lockdowns for controlling coronavirus outbreaks and widespread uncertainty over the war in Ukraine.

Beijing’s ability to maintain political and economic stability is paramount as the ruling Communist Party sets the stage for Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader, to win another term in power at a party congress later this year. year. Mr Xi has used a nationalist vision of rejuvenation to justify his strongman rule and the party’s growing grip on daily life, but the challenges facing his country are severe.

The Chinese economy is slowing down. Continued shutdowns and other strict pandemic measures have hurt consumption. The average age of the population is rising rapidly, threatening to lead to labor shortages. Authorities are grappling with an unusually sustained wave of public anger over human trafficking and the poor protection of women.

On Saturday, Premier Li Keqiang announced that the government had set a target of “about 5.5%” economic growth for this year. This would mean a gradual and continued deceleration of the Chinese economy, albeit growing even faster than in most other countries.

Economies have rebounded strongly over the past year in the West, helped by strong consumer spending as the pandemic wanes at least temporarily. But China is on the opposite path. Chinese economy increased by 8.1% last year, but slowed markedly in the final months of last year to 4% as government measures to curb property speculation also hurt other sectors.

Consumers, sometimes kept at home by shutdowns and restrictions on domestic travel, are pushing back. A high level of household indebtedness, mainly for mortgages, also dampened spending. Even exports seem to be growing a little less quickly after spectacular growth for most of the pandemic.

“In its pursuit of economic development, China is facing the triple pressure of declining demand, disrupted supply and weakened expectations,” Premier Li said.

To compensate for weak consumption, Premier Li announced a new round of heavy, debt-fueled spending on infrastructure and on helping very poor households, especially in rural areas. Transfers from the central government to provincial governments, which pay mainly for social programs, will jump 18% this year, after rising only 7.8% last year.

Zhu Guangyao, a former vice finance minister who is now an adviser to the cabinet, had said at a press conference in late January that he expected the target to be around 5.5%. But Jude Blanchette, a China specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, had suggested that global supply chain difficulties and the economic and financial fallout from the war in Ukraine could prompt China to set a target. lower.

During the convention, Mr. Blanchette predicted that “the biggest concern and the central point will be the economy”.

China has kept the coronavirus almost completely under control within its borders after the initial outbreak in Wuhan two years ago, but at considerable cost: intermittent lockdowns, especially in border towns, as well as long quarantines for international and sometimes domestic travelers as well. Clues may emerge on how China intends to follow the rest of the world in opening up, but perhaps not until next year.

Experts say China is unlikely to open its borders before the Communist Party Congress later this year. When China begins to open up, it will want to avoid the kind of unchecked outbreak that has overwhelmed Hong Kong’s nursing homes and hospitals, largely wreaking havoc on the city’s oldest residents, including many are not vaccinated.

But in interviews with state media, social media posts and public remarks over the past week, top Chinese medical experts have begun to suggest the country is seeking a less stringent approach that protects lives. without disrupting the economy too much.

The challenge for Beijing is to increase the vaccination rate among the country’s elderly population. In December, a top health official said the country’s overall immunization rate was high, but only half of the citizens more than 70 have been vaccinated.

China’s Covid strategy relies heavily on mass surveillance of population movements, with localization by mobile phone as well as rapid containment buildings and neighborhoods when cases emerge, to enforce mass testing and quarantines.

But in a sign of Beijing’s concern about the economic cost of the measures, the National Development and Reform Commission last month ordered local governments not to impose unauthorized closures. The chief economic planner said governments “should not go beyond corresponding epidemic prevention and control regulations to lock down cities and districts, and should not halt public transport if it is unnecessary or unnecessary.” approval”.

Officials struggled to contain public outrage that erupted after a short video of a woman chained in a shack with no door went viral in late January. The woman from east-central China’s Jiangsu province, described by government investigators as having been abducted in 1998, had given birth to eight children.

Her case drew public attention to the long-standing problem of trafficking in women. Decades of the country’s one-child policy have resulted in a shortage of women, after families have abandoned newborn girls or aborted female fetuses for boys. Many men now struggle to find wives, and some have resorted to criminal gangs who abduct women.

In a tacit acknowledgment of the immense public anger that has erupted in recent weeks, Mr. Li pledged to take action against human trafficking, without going into details. “We will crack down hard on the trafficking of women and children and protect their legitimate rights and interests,” he said.

Nearly a dozen lawmakers and members of a high-level political advisory body have proposed measures to address the problem, including suggesting tougher penalties for buyers of abducted women and children.

But changing laws through the National People’s Congress is a long process, and the assembly often leaves that task to its standing committee, which meets every two months, and sometimes more often. “I don’t expect the NPC to take specific legislative measures on social issues,” said Changhao Wei, founder, director and editor-in-chief of a blog that follows the Chinese legislature.

No such legislation was on the agenda released Friday before the opening of the National People’s Congress.

In many countries, a legislative meeting would provide an opportunity for a lively debate on the war in Ukraine. But the Chinese Communist Party-controlled congress is a gathering so rigidly controlled and swaddled in ritual that the goal seems to be to keep controversy at bay.

that of Beijing pact with Moscow a month ago and the ensuing Russian invasion of Ukraine can be little mentioned. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will hold a press briefing on Monday in which he is expected to reiterate Beijing’s position that Russia’s security interests must be respected and the two sides must hold talks.

Guo Shuqing, China’s top banking regulator, said on Wednesday that China would not join Western sanctions against Russia and planned to maintain normal trade and financial relations with Russia and Ukraine.

Perhaps the clearest foreign policy signal comes not from Premier Li’s work report, but from his budget, a document slated for release on Saturday. The budget is expected to include another major increase in military spending, which last year grew four times faster than non-military spending by central and provincial governments.

Li you contributed to the research.



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