The annual session of the National People’s Congress opened on Monday amid a major shift in Chinese politics.
It is the first session of the legislative body after the new Communist Party leadership was installed at its 19th congress in October. It is also China’s first big political event after it became clear that President Xi Jinping intends to stay in power beyond his second five-year term, with the party proposing the constitution be changed to remove the limit.
Premier Li Keqiang is now delivering his work report at the opening ceremony on Monday and the annual budget will also be released.
Beijing has announced an increase in defence spending by 8.1 per cent this year. It will also lower its fiscal deficit target to 2.6 per cent of GDP for 2018, down 0.4 percentage points compared with last year. China’s GDP target in 2018 is likely to be about 6.5 per cent this year, the same as in 2017.
10.42am: On diplomacy, the premier said China had seen itself rise to become a major international power since Xi took office in 2012 and was ready to make further contributions and offer its solutions to wide-ranging global governance woes in a fast-changing and uncertain world order.
He said China would continue to push forward the belt and road trade and infrastructure initiative, Xi’s signature foreign policy scheme to expand the nation’s economic and diplomatic presence and influence in the Asia-Pacific and beyond.
10.35am: China will use big data to improve food safety by tracking the production and supply chain. It will also reduce import tariffs of automobiles and some consumer goods, Li said.
10.31am: Li said China would fight against protectionism and firmly defend its own interests, without directly any country. He also said China would reform personal income tax to raise the taxable threshold and to deduct education and healthcare from taxable base.
10.30am: Li said China should accelerate the building of China’s led trade bloc “Free Trade Agreement Asia Pacific FTAAP”. He also reiterated China’s opposition of trade protectionism. His remark was made as China and US are moving closer to a trade war.
10.20am: On the environment, Li admitted China still faced an uphill battle to control and cut widespread pollution woes. Setting a series of pollution-reduction targets for 2018, Li said reducing key air pollutants, such as particulate matters, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide remained the government’s top priority.
Like his previous government work reports, he also vowed to tackle soil, water and maritime pollution, which remain a major source of public discontent and unrest. He said Beijing will roll out bans and restrictions on land reclamation from the ocean in coastal regions and plug loopholes in environmental laws and their enforcement. He did not elaborate.
10.19am: Li said China would further reduce population living below poverty alleviation in rural area by 10 million and move 2.8 million of poor people to other areas. He said China would also increase support to vulnerable groups including elderly and disabled, and those suffering from serious diseases. The premier’s pledge is the latest after President Xi earlier set the target to eliminate absolute poverty by 2020.
10.18am: China has achieved notable progress in addressing “key risks” with overall economic and financial risks under control, Li said. China will “strike hard” at illegal fund raising and financial fraud.
10.15am: China will keep the yuan exchange rate “basically stable” at a reasonable level in 2018, Li says.
10.13am: China would facilitate more overseas Chinese to work and start businesses in China in order to help China’s innovation drive, Li said.
10.08am: Li vowed his government would further boost the innovation-drive development by focusing on major projects, such as tackling smog and widespread cancer and other major diseases and the building of world-class national labs and encouraging the cooperation between enterprises with scientific institutions and colleges.
10.06am: Under the leadership of the party and Xi Jinping himself, Li said the Chinese military had reformed itself to become a strong and world-class army and played important roles in safeguarding the nation’s maritime rights, fighting terrorism and maintaining social stability.
He said China had successfully met the target of cutting its massive troops by 300,000 and seen major advances in improving military technologies and equipment as well as civilian-military integration, which Xi listed as his priorities.
On Hong Kong, Li said under the “One Country, Two systems”, the authority of China’s constitution and the basic law had been further upheld despite mounting criticism over Beijing’s increasing, omnipresent control over the city.
On Taiwan, Beijing adhered to the One China principle and the 1992 consensus, which allowed the two sides to interpret what one China meant differently over the past five years, and successfully reined in the separatist attempts by pro-independence forces without naming indepence-leaning President Tsai Ing-wen and maintained the peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.
10.02am: Li won applause as he said the government would reduce the tax burden of enterprises, as well as reduce the telecom fees. Li said China planned to cut 800 billion yuan taxes for companies and individuals this year. He did not mention Trump’s tax cut plans.
Li said China would cut mobile data communication charges by at least 30 per cent this year. Meanwhile, China would continue its Made in China 2025 plan by creating “example areas” for this state plan.
The country would also phase out 30 million tonnes of steel capacity and 150 million tonnes of coal in 2018. China would halve the time span of approving construction projects in 2018 in an effort to boost government efficiency, he added.
9.58am: Li said China budgeted a fiscal deficit for 2018 at about 2.6 per cent of GDP, and the ratio was 0.4 percentage points lower than 2017. A lower fiscal deficit to GDP ratio will leave more policy leeway for China’s macroeconomic control, Li said. SCMP reported yesterday that China is set to cut fiscal deficit ratio in 2018.
9.56am: Li sets 2018 growth at about 6.5 per cent. In addition, Li said China’s consumer price index will rise 3 per cent in 2018, surveyed jobless rate below 5.5 per cent, and unit GDP energy consumption fell at least 3 per cent.
Li said China included the “surveyed jobless rate” in government report for the first time because this jobless rate covers China’s migrant workers and can reflect the country’s real job situation. Previously China only used the urban registered jobless rate, which only covered part of the job market because it doesn’t cover the country’s 270 million migrant workers, who left their rural homes to seek jobs in cities and towns.
9.55am: The world is seeing growing protectionism and geopolitical risks, but China is able to achieve better, fairer and more sustainable economic growth, he said.
9.45am: “We will persist with the direction to localise religions,” Li said.
9.38am: Li said the government has paid particular importance to reducing the nation’s reliance on dirty coal and cutting persistent smog, with the concentration of tiny particulate matters in the most polluted areas, including Beijing, dropping by over 30 per cent in the past five years.
Coal consumption has been reduced by 8.1 per cent and the use of clean, alternative energy saw a 6.3 per cent increase.
China has played an important role in the global fight against climate change since the Paris Climate Accord, he said.
9.29am: China has risen to become a global hub for innovative businesses and one of the world leaders in scientific and technological innovation, said Li.
9.25am: China’s growth has shifted from reliance on investment and exports to a healthy cocktail of consumption, investment and exports, said Li. China’s economy is now relying more on services than industrial production. “This is a significant structural change that we had been longing to achieve but had failed to achieve,” he said.
9.23am: Li said China has shut down 170 million tonnes of steel production capacity in the last five years and 800 million tonnes of coal mine capacity, involving 1.1 million workers.
9.20am: Li said China has avoided any systematic financial risks, partly citing a rise in foreign exchange reserves.
9.18am: The premier said China has achieved its 2017 economic and social development goals and the results were “better than expected”. Li said China has successfully managed economic downward pressure and avoided an economic “hard landing”.
Reviewing the performance of his government since 2013, Li said China made major progress in innovation-driven development, which contributed significantly to the transformation of its economic structure.
Its investment in research and development has grown at an average annual rate of 11 per cent, ranking the second highest in the world, he claimed.
His long trophy list included the building of Chinese-made aircraft carriers, manned spaceflight, deep-water exploration, quantum communication.
Li said China has become a world leader in areas such as high-speed rail, e-commerce and mobile payments.
He also mentioned his signature Internet plus policy, which he said was among the hallmarks of China’s innovation-driven development.
9.15am: Li told delegates China has reduced the number of people in poverty by 68 million over the past five years and that the nation’s poverty alleviation efforts have achieved “decisive” progress. Meanwhile, Li said China’s basic pension has covered more than 900 million people and healthcare insurance covered 1.35 billion as China created “the world’s largest social welfare network”.