The annual plenary sessions of China’s top political advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and its version of a parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), opened in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People on March 3 and 4, respectively. The carefully choreographed sessions sent out the clear message that China’s communist leadership is determined to achieve its expansive ambitions. The emphasis on international connectivity projects, national defence and domestic security reinforce this.
State-owned CCTV telecast images of an assured and self-confident Chinese President Xi Jinping walking into the Great Hall of the People on the opening day. The other six members of the Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) walked more than the usual two to three respectful steps behind him.
CPPCC vice-chairman Zhang Qingli announced the opening of the session. The CPPCC oversees formulation and implementation of policies for non-Chinese Communist Party (CCP) entities, ethnic and religious minorities. Him making the announcement conveyed that there would be no change in China’s tough policies towards ethnic and religious minorities. Zhang Qingli, former Tibet Party Secretary, came to international notice in March 2008 when he said: ‘The Dalai is a wolf in monk’s robes, a devil with a human face but the heart of a beast!’
On the sidelines of the NPC on March 5, Xi Jinping instructed NPC delegates from the restive Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region to popularise the use of Mandarin in schools and resolve ethnic tensions. Xinhua quoted him as telling delegates that ‘Cultural identity is the deepest form of identity. It is also the root and soul of ethnic unity and harmony.’ He told them to use ‘solid and meticulous efforts’ to achieve ethnic unity and ensure that standard Chinese and state-compiled textbooks are unwaveringly adopted. He said all young people in Inner Mongolia should understand the CCP’s policies and revolutionary heritage.
As many as 2,953 deputies to the NPC and more than 2,106 members of the CPPCC listened to the government work report presented by Premier Li Keqiang. Like last year, this report contained 13 references to Xi Jinping and bore his imprimatur. It gave unequivocal credit for last year’s achievements despite unprecedented difficulties ‘to the strong leadership of the Party Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core, to the sound guidance of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, and to the concerted efforts of the Party, the armed forces….’ The draft was earlier approved at a politburo meeting chaired by Xi Jinping on February 26.
Reflecting stress on the economy, Li Keqiang set this year’s GDP growth rate target at 6 per cent, lower than expected by many Chinese economists who anticipated he might either forgo the numerical target or set an ambitious 8 per cent growth rate. Stating that the central government will tighten its belt, he said the government would cut the fiscal deficit target to 3.2 per cent of China’s projected GDP this year. He announced plans to create 11 million new jobs, up from the 2020 target of 9 million and said by 2025, China would cut carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 18 per cent from 2020 levels. He noted the ‘solid progress’ in the Belt and Road Initiative, stressed maintenance of social harmony and stability and said science and technology would be strengthened to provide strategic support for development.
The ministry of finance’s report revealed either cuts, or no increases, in the budgets of most ministries. In 2020, there was a 50 per cent across-the-board cut in the budgets of ministries except those of national defence and public security. This year, too, national defence received 1.35 trillion yuan
($209 billion), a hike of 6.8 per cent. A large portion is intended for defence R&D and training of the PLA. Public security was allocated 185.092 billion yuan from the central budget, or a 0.7 per cent increase identical to that for last year. Expenditure on public security has increased each year for the past over five years. The push for major projects promoting coordinated regional development and other major projects such as the development of new infrastructure and urbanisation initiatives was encouraged with the earmarking of 610 billion yuan, or 10 billion yuan more than that for last year.
Reiterating the central government’s decision to tighten its belt to channel more funds to provincial governments, the finance ministry listed the breakdown of spending as follows: 147.025 billion yuan on general public services, down 14.1 per cent; 50.414 billion yuan on foreign affairs, a drop of 1.9 per cent; 166.344 billion yuan on education, the same as the year before — but including local outlays national spending will increase by 5.2 per cent; 322.71 billion yuan on science and technology, roughly equivalent to the previous year; 122.473 billion yuan on stockpiling grain, edible oils, and other materials, basically the same as in 2020; and 599.824 billion yuan on debt interest payments, up 8.3 per cent.
Especially significant for India is China’s focus on developing strategically important international connectivity in the region. While the CPEC, BCIM and Trans-Himalayan Corridor were mentioned in the National Transportation Network for 2035 issued last month, coinciding with the NPC session the chairman of Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) Qi Zhala on March 4, inaugurated construction of the 1,800-km railway directly connecting Lhasa to Chengdu. Costing $49.4 billion and scheduled for completion by 2030, the project was described by Xi Jinping as of ‘great significance to maintaining national unity, promoting ethnic unity and consolidating stability in border areas.’
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