Under a thick cloud of pollution that has eaten up the colors and turned Beijing into a black and white city, this Friday the National People’s Congress of China, the annual meeting of its organic Parliament, started. Except for President Xi Jinping and the top of the regime, the almost 3,000 deputies gathered in the Great Hall of the People wore masks, but not to protect themselves from pollution, but from the coronavirus.
Taking chest out of its control of the epidemic, the Assembly has this year returned to its usual date of early March under strong controls to avoid contagion. Coming from all over the country, some in their traditional costumes, the deputies have had to undergo PCR tests and quarantines in hotels, as well as the few journalists and diplomats authorized to attend the inauguration. For the rest, the opening of the Assembly has followed its usual paraphernalia: the military orchestra playing the “Welcome March” to President Xi between the palms of the deputies, the policemen and soldiers patrolling Tiananmen to prevent the protests of the “petitioners. »(Aggrieved by the injustices of the system) and the speech of the prime minister, Li Keqiang, that yes shorter than in normal circumstances.
In his speech, which lasted just over an hour, Li set the goal for the Chinese economy to grow this year “above 6 percent.” Although this is the figure that the regime considers necessary to generate employment in a country as populated as China, in reality it is a modest goal because the forecast is that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will rebound in 2021 to 8 percent after the coronavirus. Regardless of whether it is achieved or not, and regardless of the reliability of the Chinese data, the goal is to create eleven million urban jobs to maintain growth and sacrosanct social stability.
To boost the economy, the prime minister has announced further tax cuts for small and medium-sized businesses and has once again advocated for global trade. Following the investment agreement signed with the European Union and the establishment in Asia-Pacific of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Association (RCEP), Li has proposed “to accelerate the free trade negotiations with Japan and South Korea.” . With the United States, he opted to improve relations after Trump’s departure to achieve “peaceful coexistence and common development,” but did not mention Phase 1 of the agreement signed to end the trade war like last year.
Aware of the external challenges facing China, whose image has been greatly deteriorated by the initial concealment of the pandemic and its economic impact and on human lives throughout the planet, Li also recognized the main domestic difficulties. These include internal consumption and private investment that have not yet taken off due to the uncertainties still posed by the coronavirus, which threaten small and medium-sized entrepreneurs and hinder job creation.
To overcome such challenges, he advocated for technological innovation, one of the keys to the new Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) that the Assembly will approve this week. With a 10.6 percent increase in public spending on this matter, Beijing intends for investment in research and development (R&D) to rise by at least 7 percent each year over the next five years.
In addition, he advanced that the retirement age, which is now at 60 years for men and 55 for women, will be lengthened to face pensions in the future, which will also require an “appropriate fertility rate” due to the aging of the population and the reduction of the birth rate.
Another of the most anticipated data in his speech was the military budget, which this year will rise 6.8 percent to 1.3 trillion yuan (175 billion yuan). Officially, it is just two tenths of a percentage point from last year, when it saw its smallest increase since 1989, amid mounting tension over territorial disputes in the South China Sea, on the border with India and with Taiwan. On this island, which is “de facto” independent and whose sovereignty is claimed by Beijing, Li once again warned against separatism and called for “promoting the peaceful improvement of relations and reunification.”
The National Assembly will also pass a reform of Hong Kong’s electoral law to veto the Democratic opposition demanding an oath of allegiance and only “patriotic” candidates in local elections. “We will defend ourselves against the interference of foreign forces in the affairs of Hong Kong,” announced the prime minister to justify the increasing repression in the former British colony after the violent protests in 2019 demanding democracy. On the other hand, he did not mention Tibet or Xinjiang, a region that is in the eye of the hurricane due to international complaints against the re-education camps for Muslims of the Uighur ethnic group.
Under the fog that surrounds Beijing these days due to pollution, Li Keqiang recalled China’s goal of achieving carbon neutrality in 2060, but admitted that they will continue to increase until reaching its peak in 2030. And there are things that will not They change in China despite the coronavirus, such as pollution and the opening of this new annual meeting of its organic Parliament to set the objectives of the regime in the post-pandemic world.