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Two sessions to gather views for tech policy – Asia Times

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Chinese officials will grab the opportunity of having the “Two Sessions” this week to gather opinions from lawmakers and business leaders about how to formulate China’s technology policy.

In a press briefing on Monday, Lou Qinjian, a spokesperson of the National People’s Congress annual meeting, commented on China’s competition with other countries in 5G, chip and artificial intelligence sectors.

“To push forward a new round of scientific and technological revolution and industrial transformation, it is normal for countries to compete with each other,” he said. “But pushing for ‘decoupling’ and ‘small yard, high fence’ will only hinder global scientific and technological progress, harm industrial development and widen the development gap between countries.”

He said China has made the right choice by promoting cooperation in science and technology development. He also said that it’s only a matter of time before China can break through to the technological levels that have been achieved elsewhere.

Premier won’t brief afterward

Meanwhile, foreign journalists were disappointed by Beijing’s Monday announcement that there will not be a media briefing at the close of the “Two Sessions,” making them unable to question Chinese Premier Li Qiang about China’s economic policies.

Some commentators said the briefing was canceled as Li won’t have more details to offer before the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee holds its third plenary, which was delayed from late 2023.

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Some others said the NPC annual meeting, which will kick off on Tuesday, is now a chance to define China’s technology policies, which aim to improve productivity in the high-end manufacturing sectors. They said an industry upgrade is important for China as it can help the nation avoid getting stuck in the middle income trap. 

The arrangement that the premier will not hold the usual media briefing after the NPC annual meeting will continue for the remainder of this legislative term, spokesperson Lou said Monday.

The premier’s annual press conference had been a tradition for many years – valued especially by foreign journalists, who were permitted to ask questions about China’s economy and government policies. 

That tradition didn’t last long after former Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said in the media briefing of the NPC annual meeting in 2020 that 600 million people in China were making less than 1,000 yuan (US$139) per month. 

Li Keqiang’s speech sparked debate among economists on whether the government had done enough to support the country’s low-income people. It also deviated from the Chinese Communist Party’s rhetoric that China was going to achieve its goal of building a xiaokang, or moderately prosperous, society by the party’s 100th anniversary in 2021. 

In March 2023, Li Keqiang stepped down from his position after presenting the government work report for the last time. His successor, the similarly named Li Qiang, conducted what would turn out to be the last post-sessions media briefing. Last October, Li Keqiang died from a heart attack in Shanghai.

Some commentators said that, due to the cancellation of the premier’s briefing, about 3,000 local and international reporters will miss an important chance to hear Li Qiang’s views about China’s economic recovery, population growth and jobs for young people.

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Pro-Beijing Hong Kong politicians insisted that the cancellation of the premier’s briefing will not hurt the transparency of the Chinese government’s policies. 

So Cheung-wing, a Hong Kong member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and a businessman, said Monday that the cancellation of Li’s briefing will not cause any worries about China’s economic prospect as the premier will clearly explain the country’s political, economic and diplomatic policies in his government work report on Tuesday.

Li Dazhuang, another CPPCC member, said foreign media can still receive information about China’s policies from different channels.

Lau Siu-Kai, a consultant to the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said, “One of the reasons why the premier’s briefing was canceled is that Beijing does not want to give a chance to people with ulterior motives to hype up information that is unfavorable to China.”

Lau explained that China’s major economic policies are usually decided in the third plenary session of the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) Central Committee but it had been delayed without a new schedule since last December. If on that account Li himself has insufficient information to be able to give complete answers to the public at the end of the NPC annual meeting, holding the media briefing could give foreign powers a chance to “speak ill” of the Chinese economy, he said.

He said another reason for the arrangement is that it will allow the CPC Central Committee to announce the country’s important decisions, showing the strong leadership of the party. 

Every five years, the CPC changes its leadership while its more than 200 Central Committee members hold seven plenary sessions. It held its National Congress and first plenum in October 2022 and second plenum in February 2023.

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Last November, the party postponed its third plenum, which should focus on economic policies, without giving any reasons. 

That’s just one of several murky developments that include the sacking of Foreign Minister Qin Gang and Liberation Army Rocket Force Commander Li Yuchao last July and Defense Minister Li Shangfu in October.

Some commentators expected the meeting to be held in the second quarter of this year.  

High-quality development

China each March holds its “two sessions,” the annual meetings of the NPC and the CPPCC. The CPPCC session kicked off on Monday and will close on March 10. The NPC session will start on Tuesday and end on March 11.

Wang Dan, chief economist at Hang Seng Bank China, said Premier Li on Tuesday will probably set China’s GDP growth target at around 4.5%, instead of an ambitious goal of 5% again. 

She said China needs to expand its monetary and fiscal policies significantly if it wants to achieve a 5% growth this year. She said there is not much room for such a macro policy expansion amid the current economic condition. 

Last year, China’s GDP grew by 5.2% from 2022. Last September, the renminbi fell to 7.33 per dollar, the lowest in 16 years or down about 13% from the 2021 level. It is now trading at around 7.2 per dollar.

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“The underlying trend of a rebound in the economy and long-term growth remains unchanged,” Lou said Monday. “We have ample confidence in this.” 

He said that China will make new laws to deepen economic reforms, including those of financial institutions, in an effort to support private companies. 

In his work report, CPPCC chairman Wang Huning said Monday that China has stabilized the Covid-19 epidemic, made solid progress in high-quality growth, achieved breakthroughs in technological innovations and improved people’s livelihoods in 2023.

He said the country will continue to deepen its economic reform and opening up and push ahead with high-quality development and ensuring social stability.

Liu Jieyi, a spokesman for the CPPCC session, said on Sunday that the upcoming meeting is of great importance as this year marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China and the founding of the CPPCC.

Technology competition 

NPC annual meeting spokesperson Lou’s comments came after the Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement (STA) between the United States and China, which had been in place since 1979, expired on February 27.

The US State Department is negotiating with the China side to amend, extend and strengthen protections with the STA, a department spokesperson told the South China Morning Post in a statement on February 26.

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Mao Ning, a spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said on February 27 that China and the US have been in communication on the renewal of the STA. She said the China-US exchange and cooperation in science and technology is mutually beneficial in nature.

Read: China’s Two Sessions to push ‘new productive forces’

Follow Jeff Pao on Twitter at @jeffpao3



Source: Asia Times

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