A Plan for the New Era

President Xi Jinping attends the opening meeting of the First Session of the 13th National People's Congress with other leaders of the Communist Party of China and the state at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 5 (XINHUA)

Against the backdrop of uncertainty and instability around the world, what direction will China's social and economic development take this year? What positive influence will it have on the global economy? At this year's Two Sessions such questions of concern to the international community are being addressed by China's leadership. The Two Sessions is a colloquial term for the annual sessions of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislative body, and the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the country's top political advisory body.

In the Report on the Work of the Government delivered at the First Session of the 13th NPC on March 5, Premier Li Keqiang reviewed China's achievements over the past five years and laid out the requirements and direction of policy for social and economic development in 2018.

According to legislators and political advisors at the Two Sessions, the report provides an important opportunity for those at home and abroad to understand China's development strategies.

"The report has made a series of important arrangements for high-quality development and the deepening of reforms," said Zhang Zhanbin, a member of the CPPCC National Committee and Director of the Economic Research Department under the Chinese Academy of Governance. "It represents President Xi Jinping's thought on socialist economy with Chinese characteristics for a new era."

Ouyang Hua, an NPC deputy and Secretary of the Baita Village General Branch of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in Yixing, east China's Jiangsu Province, spoke highly of the rural revitalization strategy mentioned in the report. He said he was impressed by the emphasis on building powerful new growth drivers for rural development through reform and innovation and improving the institutions and mechanisms needed to achieve integrated urban-rural development.

The report also highlights the current social and economic challenges faced by China. "The report specifies our tasks in many areas, reflecting the current government's clear understanding of domestic and international affairs," said Qiu Xiaoqi, a CPPCC National Committee member and China's Ambassador to Mexico.

Huang Shouhong, Deputy Director of the State Council Research Office and head of the team responsible for drafting the report, said his colleagues had collected ideas and suggestions from millions of people representing a variety of professions, social backgrounds and age groups through numerous channels including the Internet and symposiums, fully accommodating the wishes of the people.

"The report addresses people's aspirations for a better life as well as their expectations for democracy, the rule of law, justice, fairness, safety and the environment," said Yang Yanyi, a CPPCC National Committee member and former head of the Chinese Mission to the European Union.

Stable progress

The report sets the projected target for GDP growth at 6.5 percent for 2018, explaining that this target takes into consideration the need to secure a decisive victory in building a moderately prosperous society in all respects.

Qiu said the target is appropriate, suggesting that the government is not pursuing a high rate of growth. It is also in line with the general principle of pursuing progress while ensuring stability for the Chinese economy, which has ensured healthy economic expansion in recent years.

There have always been controversies surrounding China's growth targets, with some foreign media outlets expressing concern about the country's economic prospects after India's growth rate surpassed China's in 2017. Such concerns are unfounded considering that a 6.5-percent growth rate based on last year's GDP of over 82 trillion yuan ($12.96 trillion) would be sufficient to fulfill China's social development goals such as wage increases for urban and rural residents, a high employment rate and an improved environment.

However, the difficulties and challenges faced by the Chinese economy are many. World economic recovery is sluggish, global financial markets are plagued by uncertainty and protectionism is mounting. Domestically, deep-rooted structural problems in the economy are becoming prominent and downward pressure has been increasing. In response to these issues, the Chinese Government has endeavored to stabilize growth by accelerating economic restructuring rather than resorting to strong stimulus measures.

This year the government will continue following the general principle of pursuing progress while ensuring stability, with the two regarded as indivisible. Such a policy will allow China to positively contribute to world economic growth, while bolstering the international community's confidence in the Chinese economy.

High-quality growth

China's GDP growth rate for 2017 was 6.9 percent, better than the pre-set target of 6.5 percent, leading some to question the ambition of this year's target.

According to Qiu, the prudent target reflects the government's resolve to put quality before quantity in economic growth and improve the long-term competitiveness and performance of the economy.

The Chinese economy is transitioning from a phase of rapid growth to a stage of high-quality development, according to Huang.

High-quality development is essential to Xi Jinping Thought on Socialist Economy with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.

In the face of fluctuation in the international financial market, sluggish global trade and the downward pressure on the Chinese economy, the Chinese Government has avoided stimulus measures such as quantitative easing and expansionary fiscal policies adopted by some developed countries and emerging economies, instead seeking to transform the growth model by reform and innovation to strengthen momentum in the long run.

The prioritization of quality growth reflects the Chinese Government's strong sense of responsibility. Although the international community has expressed doubts over the Chinese economy whenever fluctuations in the stock market and foreign exchange rate have occurred, economic indicators are looking up as a result of the Chinese Government's policies.

"Had China chosen the traditional path of stimulation, robust economic growth in the short term might have been possible but serious negative outcomes would have followed, making today's achievements impossible," said Huang.

Premier Li's report underlines China's intention to focus on high-quality growth, while addressing unbalanced and inadequate development. Committed to developing a modernized economy, the country will give priority to performance, promoting structural improvement and economic upgrading.

People first

The concept that development should be for the people, depend on the people and that the results should be shared by the people, is central to the governance of the CPC.

According to Huang, the Report on the Work of the Government reflects a vision of people-centered development, establishing a series of measures closely related to people's lives with a view to improving their overall livelihood, such as cutting the cost of starting businesses through alleviating tax burdens, raising the personal income tax threshold so as to boost incomes, promoting the rebuilding of dilapidated urban and rural housing, and increasing fiscal subsidies to basic healthcare. New requirements have also been put forward to increase incomes, improve healthcare and education, and simplify various procedures to make people's daily lives easier and more convenient. The report responds to every issue of major concern to the public with tangible measures.

"China's development demonstrates the state's focus on the benefit of the people and their share in the country's progress," said Huang.

Poverty alleviation is key to achieving the goal of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects by 2020, which represents China's greatest challenge. The report highlights the importance of winning the three critical battles of forestalling and defusing major risks, stepping up targeted poverty alleviation and addressing pollution, and of securing a decisive victory on all fronts. "I'm fully confident of victory as there are a lot of detailed and specific measures to cope with these problems," said Zhang.

Sustaining reform

This year marks the 40th anniversary of China's reform and opening-up policy, a move that made possible China's current social and economic achievements. As the Report on the Work of the Government suggests, the Chinese Government is set to further push forward reform and opening up by building on the achievements of the past four decades, maintaining efforts to unleash and develop productive forces.

The report explicitly states that "reform and opening up was a game-changing move in making China what it is today; it now remains a game-changing move for us to achieve China's Two Centenary Goals." The Two Centenary Goals are to finish building a moderately prosperous society in all respects by the time the CPC marks its centenary and to build China into a great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious and beautiful by the time the People's Republic of China celebrates its centenary.

The word "reform" appeared an unprecedented 97 times throughout the report, far higher than in previous versions, signifying the Chinese Government's determination to uphold the mission of reform and opening up.

Reform is to be conducted in many areas. China will continue with supply-side structural reform, as well as the reform of market regulation and services, finance, taxation, the state innovation system and efforts to improve the ecological environment this year and beyond.

"The report aims to drive reform and opening up by encouraging different regions to proceed from their own specific conditions, no matter how difficult the situation is", said Zhang. "Tax reduction, a better business environment, and the protection of entrepreneurship and property rights will all help to promote China's reform and opening up."

China's reforms are not limited to the economy. This year's NPC session will hear and deliberate on an institutional reform plan of the State Council, China' cabinet, said Zhang Yesui, spokesman for the First Session of the 13th NPC, on March 4. The move is part of a broad reform of Party and state institutions to modernize the system and its capacity for governance of the state.

The world economy still faces unstable and uncertain factors as a rise in protectionism hampers globalization. As a steadfast champion and the driving force behind free trade and economic globalization, China will continue to benefit the world economy and the global community by intensifying the process of reform and opening up.

(With reporting by Zeng Wenhui, Li Fangfang, Xu Bei, Li Xiaoyu and Yuan Yuan)

This article is reprinted from Beijing Review.

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