Premier sends clear messages from China to the world

Li Keqiang’s press conference laid out the leadership’s thinking on issues from the economy to Hong Kong, Europe and Sino-US ties

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 March, 2017, 4:26am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 March, 2017, 4:26am

One of the most eagerly anticipated events on the Chinese political calendar is the premier’s press conference after the annual sessions of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. The questions to Li Keqiang may have been screened to avoid surprises. But they reflect perceptions of China’s growing global influence amid political and economic change and uncertainty. Testament to that yesterday, for example, was the number of questions from the foreign media related to the mainland economy.

Big topics that went unmentioned at China’s ‘two sessions’

The answers also may not throw up surprises. However, together with the “two sessions” and Li’s work report, they outline the leadership’s thinking on domestic and foreign issues.

The questions on China’s economy reveal worry about global growth amid protectionist sentiment in Europe and the US. Li strongly defended management of an economic slowdown to prevent it becoming a hard landing, and dismissed fears of systemic risk, citing the country’s deep reserves. But he has highlighted again structural obstacles to important reform, including overcapacity in obsolete enterprises, which has implications for employment growth. He reaffirmed commitment to a one trillion yuan business tax-relief package, but hurdles to implementation still include a complicated tax system, a lack of transparency and resistance from local governments. Four years ago it was refreshing to hear Li lash excessive bureaucracy and government intervention. It does not sound good to hear him still talking about these issues.

On foreign affairs, Li had succinct messages for the US and Europe. Ahead of a Sino-US summit expected next month, he said a trade war would be bad for both sides, but US companies would suffer the most. And China and the US should create opportunities for Asean countries and not force them to take sides over South China Sea territorial issues. With the European Union reeling from Brexit and facing challenges in elections in member states from far-right anti-European parties, Li conveyed an important message that Beijing considers a strong, united Europe good for the world.

Premier Li Keqiang pledges Hong Kong-mainland bond market link

Having already drawn a red line on independence talk in Hong Kong, Li struck a moderate and accommodating tone on the last day of the “two sessions”, trying to focus attention on economic development and isolate independence advocates. Importantly, in that respect, the CPPCC work report encouraged Hong Kong members to visit schools and promote national education.

The twin meetings have laid the groundwork for the major debates at the 19th party congress expected towards the end of the year, when there will be a leadership reshuffle.