GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 620, 13 March 2022

China: Fifth Session of the 13th NPC
Avishka Ashok

What happened?
On 10 March, the fifth session of the 13th National People’s Congress came to an end. The six-day political congregation also witnessed the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.  

During the meeting, lawmakers and political advisors gathered and discussed issues such as the economy, ethnic unity, rural revitalisation, national defence and enhancing the military. President Xi Jinping attended the congregation; he delivered a speech highlighting women’s security and calling ethnic unity as the country’s lifeline. Other top officials such as Premier Li Keqiang, Li Zhanshu, Wang Huning, Zhao Leji, Han Zheng and Wang Qishan also attended the conference. The conference repeatedly emphasized on China’s whole process democracy and condemned the West and its “Summit for Democracy”. The lawmakers also discussed several bills, such as the draft decision on the number of deputies to be elected in the next NPC and the method for electing deputies in HKSAR and Macao SAR. 

On 8 March, a total of 487 proposals were submitted by the 3000 NPC deputies, along with 8,000 suggestions, criticisms and comments. The proposals stressed energy, digital economy, pre-school education, elderly care and women’s rights. The proposals were then reviewed by the special committees of the NPC, elected by the deputies, and the suggestions were forwarded to 194 organizations for further inspection. The meeting also passed the work report of the Supreme People’s Court, Supreme People’s Procuratorate, NPC Standing Committee, electoral rules for the 14th NPC, resolution on the government work report and the sixth amendment to the Organic Law of the Local People’s Congresses and Local People’s Governments, which was adopted in 1979.

The conference also reviewed the work report of the government, which stressed economic stability as the top priority in 2022. It set the economic growth target at 5.5 per cent. In 2022, the country will aim to create 11 million new urban jobs, restrict the unemployment rate to 5.5 per cent or lower and maintain its grains production at 650 million tonnes. Furthermore, the Ministry of Defence also announced its intolerance against the secessionist movements in Taiwan. It clarified that the actions of the People’s Liberation Army were not aimed at the compatriots, but at the Taiwanese Independence activists. 

What is the background?
First, the significance of the two sessions. The ‘two sessions’ refers to the top two political meetings in China: the NPC and the CPPCC. The NPC is the largest legislative body in the world and comprises over 3000 deputies who have direct connections with the Chinese citizens. Being a country with a vast population and a massive territory, the 3000 deputies provide a platform for the people to express their discomfit and complaints with the political system, which are later discussed during the two sessions. The CPPCC comprises representatives of the Communist Party of China, people’s organizations, ethnic groups, independent democratic groups, and compatriots from HKSAR, Macao SAR, and Taiwan. The political event is crucial to China’s democratic system and plays an essential role in continuing the “whole-process democracy”. The meeting is also a forerunner to the election of the next NPC as it decides the number of deputies to be elected and the method for their election.  

Second, China’s economic growth. In March 2021, the NPC set the country’s economic growth at 6.1 per cent, but the country managed to achieve a GDP growth of 8.1 per cent, which amounted to USD 18 trillion. Despite the increase, Premier Li Keqiang announced that the set target for 2022 would be brought down to 5.5 per cent, the lowest in decades. The country foresees major economic challenges and concerns in 2022 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the global economic conditions, political hostility towards China and the crisis in Eastern Europe. The economic experts predict that these external factors may impact the country and cause internal problems such as increased social instability, leading to economic volatility. 

Compared to China’s economic boom when the rates exceeded 10 per cent, the country has been experiencing an economic slowdown in the past few years. In December 2020, the World Bank published a report titled “From Recovery to Rebalancing: China’s Economy in 2021,” which predicted a two per cent decrease in the country’s economic growth. An economic update by the bank in December 2021 forecasted yet another slowdown in 2022. Another report by Pricewaterhouse Coopers China, titled “Global Economy and China’s Economy in 2021,” also stressed on global uncertainties and an unbalanced economy that threatened to harm the Chinese economy. The report claimed that the economy was bound to achieve an eight per cent growth in 2021 but dip to 5.5 per cent in 2022. 

Apart from the economy, the government plans to enhance the birth rate by providing numerous attractive provisions and subsidies to young couples. China is, therefore, looking to secure its domestic markets and aims to push more capital into the national economy and the Chinese society. 

Third, defence stability. The NPC announced a 7.1 per cent increase in its defence spending. The Global Times validated the defence spending and referred to the growing external threats and security challenges facing the country in recent years. China is also tightening its grip on the Taiwan issue by taking a harsh stand against countries that fail to adhere to the ‘One-China’ principle. Even though the possibility of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan cannot be ascertained, China is enhancing its military capacity to overcome possible challenges. 

Fourth energy security. The CPC is placing great importance on the green-transition of the Chinese economy, which is currently dependent on traditional sources of energy. China set extremely high goals at the COP26 and promised to transition to a carbon-neutral economy by 2060. In September 2021, President Xi Jinping announced China’s decision to stop funding overseas coal-powered plants. The country has also placed renewable energy as its priority. In 2016, four of the five biggest renewable energy deals were made by China. The government also recognizes the domestic urgency to transition to a cleaner energy source after a report by Tsinghua University showcased seven cities in China to be in the top 10 most polluted in the world. The coal dependency also caused an economic slowdown in the fourth quarter of 2021, urging the government to shift out of its reliance on coal. 

Fifth ethnic unity. President Xi’s recent call for ethnic unity and close community ties are not the first in the past few months. China has strongly resisted external interferences in its internal ethnic issues, such as the accusations of human rights violation in Xinjiang and Tibet. In March 2021, China imposed sanctions on nine lawmakers from the UK for spreading lies about Xinjiang. It also sanctioned the US and Canadian officials for their interference in Xinjiang. The Chinese government has strived to show Xinjiang in a positive light by highlighting reports by the regional government on improving the people’s living conditions and a surge in economic opportunities created by the government. In September 2021, the State Council Information Office released a White Paper showcasing substantial improvement in the region’s demography. In its most recent efforts, the Chinese permanent representative to the United Nations extended an invitation to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to prove China’s narrative on ethnic inclusion and common prosperity for all within the country. 

What does it mean?
As the NPC ended, the country has highlighted its major priorities for 2022. The country seems to be focusing on its domestic economy and enhancing local supply chains to ensure stable economic development. The government has foreseen challenges in ensuring social stability and ethnic unity and thus, wishes to strengthen these factors before they harm the country’s growth. The NPC also believes that 2022 is the year for China to take major steps toward its climate goals. Therefore, green energy is expected to receive major impetus in the coming year.

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