Friday, March 24, 2023

China sets its goals for the first year after the end of ‘zero covid’

China today set its economic and political objectives for the first year after the end of the ‘zero covid’ policy at the country’s main annual political event, in which an emphasis on stability as the cornerstone of recovery prevails.

Outgoing Prime Minister Li Keqiang outlined an annual road map for the country in his government management report, which he read in the massive Great Hall of the People, located in Tiananmen Square, during the opening of the National Assembly session. Popular (ANP, Legislative), the country’s main annual political conference.

Stability, “essential”

Li announced an economic growth target of “around 5%” for this year in the Asian giant, a goal that meets what was predicted by analysts and follows the line established last year, of between 5 and 5.5%, although China finally grew 3% after the harsh restrictions of its ‘zero covid’ policy in the face of the worst waves of infections.

“This year it is essential to prioritize economic stability and seek growth,” said Li, who recalled that “the foundations of stable growth (still) need to be consolidated.”

The growth target for the consumer price index (CPI) was limited to around 3%, the same rate as that set for 2022, when it finally increased by 2%.

7.2% increase in defense spending

The Asian country will increase its defense spending by 7.2% this year to 1.53 trillion yuan (US$224.384 million, €210.685 million) after the item grew 7.1% in 2022.

Li referred to the conflict with Taiwan and warned that China will fight “resolutely” against Taiwanese “independence”, after a year in which the visit to the island of the then president of the US Legislature, Nancy Pelosi, raised tension in the narrow to unprecedented highs in years.

Beyond citing a “stormy international environment,” Li did not mention the war in Ukraine, about which Beijing recently issued a statement calling for respect for the sovereignty of all countries and a ceasefire, a proposal criticized by the West for putting on the same plane “the aggressor and the attacked”.

Quarantines and barriers for correspondents

Since the pandemic “is not over”, China must now ensure that its management is “more effective and scientific”, said Li, whose words mark another step in the dismantling of the ‘zero covid’ policy begun in December after almost three years of restrictions.

Despite the change in strategy, the conclave is still held under anti-covid measures: the attendees, except the highest-ranking leaders, wear masks and the reporters had to carry out a PCR test the day before and quarantine in a hotel designated by the organization, as at legislative meetings in recent years and the 20th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) last October.

Likewise, numerous correspondents from Western countries were banned from the inauguration despite having accreditation.

The situation contrasts with the presence of dozens of reporters who came from other countries expressly to cover the event and who have traveled to China invited by the authorities and in some cases with all expenses paid, according to EFE.

Strong security measures

The meeting, due to conclude on March 13, began under heavy pollution in Beijing, unlike in other years when high-level political gatherings were synonymous with blue skies in the Chinese capital.

Yes, the strong police presence in Tiananmen Square and its surrounding streets remains constant, to which is added this time a legion of vigilantes on the bridges of Beijing as a result of the fact that last October, during the XX Congress of the PCCh, a A man hung some posters on a highway bridge criticizing the ‘zero covid’ policy and calling for free elections, after which he was arrested.

In 2018, the PNA approved a constitutional amendment that eliminated the limit of two consecutive terms of five years each for Chinese presidents, a decision that will allow Xi Jinping, who was appointed president in 2013, to renew his term in this political conclave.

Last October, Xi revalidated his position as CPC general secretary for a third term unprecedented among his immediate predecessors.

It is expected that during the PNA meeting, the deputies will also approve the appointment of Xi as head of the Armed Forces, thus prolonging the president’s control over the three arms of power: the State, the Party and the Army.


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