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China's new Premier Li Qiang seeks to reassure private sector as parliament wraps up

Making his public debut in a wide-ranging media conference, Li Qiang also says China's 2023 growth target would be "no easy task".

China's new Premier Li Qiang seeks to reassure private sector as parliament wraps up

China's new Premier Li Qiang warned of "many new challenges" to economic growth. (Photo: AFP/Greg Baker)

BEIJING: New Chinese Premier Li Qiang sought to reassure the country's private sector on Monday (Mar 13), saying that the environment for entrepreneurial businesses will improve and that equal treatment will be given to companies, regardless of ownership type.

Li, the former Communist Party chief of Shanghai, was installed as premier on Saturday during the annual session of China's parliament and is tasked with reviving the world's second-largest economy after three years of COVID-19 curbs.

Making his public debut in a wide-ranging media conference, the close ally of President Xi Jinping said China will take measures to boost jobs and urged officials at all levels to "make friends" with entrepreneurs.

"Developing the economy is the fundamental solution for creating jobs," Li, 63, said in the Great Hall of the People in central Beijing after the closing of the parliamentary session.

Li faces challenges including weak confidence among consumers and private industry, sluggish demand for exports and worsening relations with the United States.

A career bureaucrat in some of China's most economically vibrant regions, Li talked up his track record with the private sector, which has been rattled in recent years by a sweeping regulatory clampdown targeting industries including internet platforms and private education.

"Indeed, last year there were some incorrect remarks about the development of the private economy, which worried some entrepreneurs," Li said in his televised address, without giving details.

"Private entrepreneurs or enterprises will enjoy a better environment and broader space for development ... we will create a level playing field for all kinds of market entities and we will make further efforts to support private entrepreneurs to grow and thrive."

At the opening of the annual parliamentary session, China set a gross domestic product growth target of 5 per cent, its lowest goal in nearly three decades, after the economy grew just 3 per cent last year.

Achieving the target would not be easy, Li said, with China facing many difficulties this year.

"I'm afraid that reaching our growth target of around 5 per cent will be no easy task, and will require that we redouble our efforts," Li said.

China missed its stated 2022 growth target of around 5.5 per cent by a wide margin as the economy was strained by the impact of strict COVID-19 policies and a property crisis.

Li said on Monday that the modest figure "has been determined after a comprehensive consideration of various factors".

He warned of "many new challenges" to growth, but added that most people "don't fix their sights every day" on the country's growth figures.

Instead, he said, they care more about "specific issues close to them" such as housing, employment, income, education and health.

He also hit out at the United States, with relations at lows not seen in decades as the powers grapple over trade, technology and security.

"Encirclement and suppression are not advantageous for anyone," Li said.

"China and the United States should cooperate, and must cooperate. When China and the US work together, there is much we can achieve," he added.

At under 90 minutes, Li's media briefing was shorter than the annual sessions held in recent years by his predecessor Li Keqiang, which could exceed two hours.

His comments capped more than a week of high-level meetings in Beijing that also saw President Xi handed another term in office, further cementing his position as China's most powerful leader in generations.


Earlier on Monday, Xi said China needs security to develop and must modernise its military to make it a "Great Wall of Steel", calling for China to step up its ability to safeguard national security and manage public security.

Xi was speaking for the first time since the National People's Congress, China's parliament, unanimously voted to confirm him in a precedent-breaking third term as China's president.

"Security is the foundation for development, stability is the prerequisite for prosperity," Xi, 69, said.

The ruling Communist Party is expected to tighten party oversight over security matters, a move that comes after Xi replaced top security officials with his trusted allies.

Xi said China will distribute the fruits of development more equitably, in an effort towards "common prosperity", his signature policy of reducing the wealth gap by ways such as asking private firms to pitch in.

China must achieve greater self-reliance and strength in science and technology, Xi said, a call that comes as the United States blocks China's access to chip-making equipment and other cutting-edge technologies.

On Taiwan, the self-ruled island that China claims its own and a major producer of semiconductors, Xi said China must oppose pro-independence and secessionist activities and the interference of external forces.

China's relations with the United States sank to a low after Us House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August 2022. China launched unprecedented military drills around Taiwan and halted military dialogue with Washington. 

Source: Agencies/kg


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