There is no denying it has been a difficult 12 months for Beijingby George Magnus / March 8, 2019 / Leave a comment
It was Premier Li Keqiang’s big moment, especially given his rather diminished role in Xi Jinping’s China. The Work Report is the premier’s responsibility to deliver, and when he addressed roughly 3,000 delegates at the National People’s Congress (NPC) earlier this week, he warned them “we must be fully prepared for a tough struggle,” and “the difficulties we face must not be underestimated.” This was an unusually downbeat message to share with Party cadres. As we know, the US-China trade dispute is an important part of a more hostile global environment for China; it is by no means the only—or even main—problem.
Li was talking at the start of the first of two weeks of meetings, called the “Two Sessions,” held annually in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, flanking the western side of Tiananmen Square. The meetings are for the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, and the National People’s Congress. The former is the body that advises the government on a broad range of policy matters, while the latter is China’s parliament, for which delegates convene to debate, possibly amend, but usually rubber-stamp already widely circulated and debated policies for the coming year.
This time last year, the NPC was the forum from which President Xi Jinping emerged with presidential term limits abandoned, followed by claims that he was “unassailable,” “omnipotent’ and so on. Li’s tenor, however, reflects the fact that it has been a difficult year. Xi has faced disquiet at home over his domestic policies and approach to the US. The economy has slowed down significantly, so that at every policy meeting since last summer, unemployment and jobs have been top of the list of priorities. In a country with poor unemployment and labour market data, this emphasis has been quite revealing.
The Work Report details accomplishments over the past year, and sets out tasks ahead. This year, there are 64 in all. Some are specific policy measures, most are bland declarations or slogans. Overall though, the government is concerned about slower growth at home, but also says that it needs to pay attention to durable financial stability, as well as environmental issues, poverty reduction, and industrial and technological transformation.
The government remains committed to a growth target, set at 6-6.5 per cent this year following last year’s target of…