The Washington Post

Chinese legislator­s open session with economic growth pledge of about 5%

- BY LILY KUO Vic Chiang and Christian Shepherd in Taipei, Taiwan, contribute­d to this report.

China pledged to expand its economy by “around 5 percent” this year, a modest goal that underlines the challenges confrontin­g President Xi Jinping in his third term as he tries to overcome increasing­ly hostile relations with the West that have hurt a struggling economy.

China’s legislatur­e, the National People’s Congress, opened in Beijing on Sunday with a report delivered by outgoing Premier Li Keqiang, who sought to shore up confidence in Chinese leadership.

Describing the “turbulent internatio­nal environmen­t,” “uncertaint­ies” and “hidden risks” facing his country as it emerges from years of isolating and paralyzing coronaviru­s measures, Li praised Xi’s leadership.

“Struggle creates brilliance. Hard work wins the future,” Li said in a wide-ranging speech that lasted less than an hour and promised to expand the country’s ability to counter outside attempts to contain its developmen­t.

This year’s Lianghui, or the Two Sessions — the dual meetings of an advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultati­ve Conference and the National People’s Congress with about 3,000 members representi­ng different sectors of society — comes at a time of deep uncertaint­y and change.

The National People’s Congress is expected to rubber-stamp senior appointmen­ts and a government overhaul that will give Xi and the ruling Communist Party even more control over decisionma­king previously delegated to government bodies.

At a party congress in October, Xi broke with succession norms to secure a third five-year term, paving the way for him to stay in power for decades. Late last year, the Chinese leadership under Xi oversaw a chaotic reversal of its years-long “zero covid” policy, as well as mass protests on a level not seen since the 1989 prodemocra­cy movement that ended in a bloody crackdown around Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

In February, a high-altitude Chinese balloon discovered floating over the United States caused Washington to cancel a scheduled visit by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, which was meant to put a floor on spiraling U.S.- China ties. Through export restrictio­ns and sanctions, Washington has curbed China’s access to technology related to semiconduc­tors and artificial intelligen­ce.

Beijing also continues to face scrutiny over its friendship with Russia and reticence to condemn the invasion of Ukraine, amid allegation­s from Washington that Beijing is considerin­g helping Moscow’s war effort.

In a nod to criticism of its foreign policy, Li said China would “resolutely pursue an independen­t foreign policy of peace.” Without referring to the U.S. restrictio­ns, Li said China successful­ly countered “external attempts” to contain China’s developmen­t and would focus on building “self reliance” in science and technology in its bid to become a global tech power.

Li covered familiar terrain in the work report, reiteratin­g China’s claims over the self-ruled democracy of Taiwan and the need to improve the military readiness of the People’s Liberation Army. A budget released Sunday said that defense spending would increase 7.2 percent to 1.56 trillion yuan ($230 billion), in line with the increases over the past two years.

At the Two Sessions, officials will announce the government’s largest leadership reshuffle in a decade, including a new economic team that will have to grapple with a property crisis, rising unemployme­nt, an aging population and declining consumer and investor confidence. China’s economy grew only 3 percent last year, missing its target of 5.5 percent.

Officials are expected to approve a “reform plan” of party and state institutio­ns that will give the party more control over areas such as technology, financial regulation and national security.

New appointmen­ts will include China’s new premier, Li Qiang — an ally of Xi’s and the former party secretary of Shanghai, who oversaw a chaotic lockdown across the city that shifted national public opinion over the zero-covid policy.

In his speech Sunday, Li Keqiang, the outgoing premier who has been sidelined by Xi for most of his tenure, made no reference to the sudden abandonmen­t of the policy. Li said only that, going forward, the country’s coronaviru­s measures should be more “scientific” and “targeted.”

The parliament on Sunday also proposed amendments to a lawmaking procedure during an emergency that would allow its decision-making standing committee to skip multiple rounds of discussion before passing legislatio­n. The proposal is almost certain to be passed, potentiall­y allowing a small group of top lawmakers to ram through controvers­ial legislatio­n with minimal oversight or feedback from the public.

The National People’s Congress runs until March 13.

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