While a slowing economy and pressure on jobs dominated the “two sessions” this year, President Xi Jinping refocused his attention to the environment at China’s key annual political gathering. Speaking to fellow deputies from Inner Mongolia at the National People’s Congress on Tuesday, soon after Premier Li Keqiang presented the government’s work report, Xi said boosting the economy must not come at the price of a degraded environment. “Do not ever think about launching environmentally damaging projects for growth, or any attempt to breach the red line of ecological protection, even when we meet some difficulties in economic development,” state news agency Xinhua quoted Xi as saying. “As the Chinese economy goes from high-speed growth to high-quality development, pollution prevention and environmental governance are important barriers to cross … We must grit our teeth, climb over this slope and pass this ridge,” the president said. The joint sessions of China’s top legislature and its political advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, begin with annual work reports delivered by the premier and the CPPCC head. More detailed – and revealing – messages from Xi are usually released during his meetings with panels of lawmakers and advisers. Against the backdrop of an economic slowdown and a damaging trade dispute with the United States, Li’s address to the NPC referred to “risks”, “pressure” and “challenges” more than three dozen times while setting China’s economic growth target for 2019 at the range of 6 per cent to 6.5 per cent. The premier said companies, as the main polluters, had a responsibility to protect the environment. But he also instructed the environment watchdogs to consider legitimate requests from businesses and give them a reasonable time to take corrective measures, and to avoid shutting down polluting factories outright. Pollution in north China up 16 per cent as industrial activity spikes Xi and other top officials have seats at the national legislature, and the president is a member of the Inner Mongolia delegation. He has said he wanted to join the region’s panel discussion because it would demonstrate the Communist Party’s support for poverty alleviation, minority rights and environmental protection. He told the panel it was the responsibility of the party and the government to tighten spending and he tasked officials with ensuring China’s economic stability. Xi also reminded them that they should unswervingly continue to protect the environment. Mother pays tribute to late son by greening the Inner Mongolia deserts Inner Mongolia, which lies in northern China, was a vast grassland, but in recent decades dust storms and desertification have become major environmental threats. Mining, overgrazing and tourism have all caused environmental problems in the resource-rich region. After he visited the area in 2014 and spoke of building it up as an “ecological shield” for China’s northern border, banners and slogans echoing his thoughts went up in the streets. On Tuesday, Xi told deputies that protecting grasslands and forests was the top priority for Inner Mongolia. He also revisited his “three critical battles” call of 2017, with the priorities being environmental issues, alleviating poverty and reducing economic risks. Zhang Lifan, a political commentator and Chinese historian, said Xi regarded environmental protection as one of his legacies. He said Xi’s place on the Inner Mongolia panel suggested he wanted to strengthen his green credentials, given the serious environmental situation in the region. In his meeting with national political advisers on Monday, Xi talked about “cultural self-confidence” and raising the public’s moral standards.