GP Insights

GP Insights # 485, 14 March 2021

China’s Two Sessions: Emphasis on Science, Technology and Innovation
D Suba Chandran

What happened?
On 11 March 2021, the “Two Sessions” of China - the annual meetings of two important institutions - the National People’s Congress (NPC), and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) came to an end.

The two sessions, of many things, endorsed a five-year blueprint for China’s economic recovery, besides approving administrative changes to Hong Kong.

What is the background?
First, the political importance of the two sessions. Though these two annual meetings of the NPC and the CPPCC take place together in March every year, these are two separate events. The NPC acts as China’s legislature, meets once a year, and is considered as the “highest organ of State power.” The members of the NPC were elected for five years, and the present NPC (the 13th) was elected in March 2018. The NPC is perceived as an “endorsing” institution by the rest of the world. On the other hand, the CPPCC is an advisory body, comprising members of the Communist Party of China and others; according to an official source, the current National Committee of the CPPCC has 2158 members, with 
859 from the Communist Party of China. The two sessions are considered as the most important development, as it highlights the government’s thinking on contemporary issues, and also provide a roadmap for China’s economic, political and international outlook.

Second, the focus of the 2021 session on the economy. With COVID-19’s fallouts on the economy, there has been an extra focus on China’s roadmap. Premier Li Keqiang, presented a five-year plan, aimed at a six per cent growth rate, with a focus on research and innovation. According to an analysis, science and technology “appeared about 86 times in the draft of the latest five-year plan, compared with 29 in the previous iteration.” There has been a focus on artificial intelligence, quantum computing and blockchain technology. 

Third, the focus on Hong Kong. While the two sessions looked at multiple issues, there was an extra focus at the global level, on what did these two sessions discuss and decide on Hong Kong. In the two sessions, it was agreed to make structural changes to Hong Kong administration, that China considers would provide greater control to Beijing. On the other hand, the critics of Beijing in Hong Kong and elsewhere consider that the new changes would bring an end to the “one country, two systems” setup, and affect the democratic institutions in letter and spirit. 

What does it mean?
First, China is likely to look inwards to take its economy forward. It is likely to invest more in Science, Technology and Innovation as a strategy to achieve economic self-reliance. Given the recent emphasis at the global level on technology, innovation and the politics over it, especially between the US and China, Beijing sees this as an essential component to drive its growth engine. 

Second, the proposed five-year plan is not about economic recovery alone; it is about closing the technological divide as soon as possible and increase the divide between China and the rest of the world. 

Third, despite international criticisms, Beijing is likely to go ahead with its plan to increase its effective control over Hong Kong. This is a foregone conclusion; the rest of the world should give more focus on the first two implications, than narrowly focussing only on the third

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