Economic and political reforms take centre stage at China’s party congress curtain-raiser

Beijing will try to balance reducing debt with maintaining growth and won’t ‘blindly copy other countries’ when it comes to politics, spokesman says

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 October, 2017, 10:47pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 October, 2017, 11:17pm

Economic and political reforms were the focus of the first press conference given by the ruling Communist Party on its congress that opens on Wednesday and will determine China’s course for the next five years.

During the carefully scripted event in Beijing on Tuesday, most of the questions allowed from foreign media centred on where the party’s promised structural reforms were headed.

Spokesman Tuo Zhen, the party’s deputy propaganda chief, reiterated that the Chinese market would be further opened up but stressed the country’s one-party rule as the precondition of any changes to the political system.

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Tuo used the word “reform” dozens of times as he took largely pre-vetted questions from reporters.

He said China would continue with its supply-side reforms and seek a balance between reducing debt and maintaining stable growth.

Slow progress in cutting industrial overcapacity and rapidly rising debt levels have prompted concerns about the long-term health of the world’s second-largest economy.

“We will make sure deleveraging will not affect economic growth,” Tuo told reporters at the Great Hall of the People. “Initial progress has been made in regard to reducing leverage, and it has not had any significant dampening effect on the economy.”

Tuo said the government would also continue to welcome foreign capital and protect the rights of foreign investors.

“A prominent problem regarding international cooperation is that some developed countries have imposed embargoes or strict restrictions on exporting some equipment and products to our country,” Tuo said.

“We hope everyone will further open up [their markets] and deepen cooperation in the future.”

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Responding to a question about progress on political reform, Tuo said China was determined to develop its own democratic system – one based on unchallenged party rule.

“The purpose of China’s political system reform is to tightly uphold the leadership of the party … and to develop the people’s democracy that is more universal, sufficient and well-rounded,” Tuo said.

“Political structural reform is not something that can be achieved overnight, and China will not blindly copy the models of other countries.”

Questions at such events are often vetted beforehand. Those from Chinese state media were mostly directed at the anti-corruption campaign and poverty alleviation, both of which are at the top of President Xi Jinping’s agenda.

Tuo became known as a hardline censor in 2013 after the Guangdong propaganda department, which he headed at the time, altered a New Year editorial of the once outspoken Southern Weekly newspaper.

The change to that article, which discussed constitutional rights in China, sparked a newsroom strike and demonstrations outside the newspaper’s office in Guangzhou.

On Tuesday, the deputy propaganda chief dodged a question about the size of the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s top leadership body, saying that photos and resumes of the country’s future leaders would be released “in a timely manner”.