China’s National Assembly Begins Its Work

Discussions centered on economic growth, defense strengthening, and relations with Taiwan after the presidential election in January. Prime Minister Li Qiang: “China will pursue an independent and peaceful foreign policy, but we will remain true to the One China principle”

Li Qiang

The long-awaited annual session of the National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China, the legislative branch of parliament, opened on Tuesday, March 5, in Beijing. 2872 delegates are discussing issues that are relevant to both China and the world, primarily the economic situation and growth prospects. Faced with “external threats,” China will increase military spending, and this will be the second most important issue to discuss. According to sources close to Beijing’s political leaders cited by the Chinese press, “the most vigorous opposition to Taiwan independence has been renewed since the presidential election in January, which was won by Lai Ching-te of the Democratic Progressive Party, viewed by Beijing as a “tenacious and dangerous separatist.” Other topics include the declining birth rate, and the Government will have to propose new measures and, above all, financial incentives to support fertility.

After fixing economic growth at 5.2% in 2023, repeating that result this year will be a challenge. Despite economic difficulties that range from declining domestic consumption to the crisis in the real estate sector and “trade wars” between China, the USA, and the European Union, this year the Beijing government has again set an ambitious growth target of “around 5%.” As Chinese Premier Li Qiang said in his policy address to the National Assembly, “achieving this year’s goals will not be easy. We have to work hard and mobilize everyone’s joint efforts.”

In his speech, Premier Li acknowledged that China’s economy is experiencing “some difficulties” also related to the intensifying “negative impact” of the external situation. “We have faced many challenges over the past year, our results have been earned through hard work. If we look at the global context, external factors have had a negative impact on the development of our country. Nationally, economic recovery after three years of the pandemic has been difficult. There were problems that overlapped and had deep roots,” the Chinese premier emphasized.

To face various threats, China must accelerate its economic transformation. “We must adhere to the principles of making progress, ensuring stability, promoting stability through progress, and creating new things before discarding old ones. The transformation of the growth model needs to continue,” Li told delegates gathered at the House of People’s Congress.

More specifically, over 12 million new jobs will be created in China’s cities in 2024, keeping urban unemployment at 5.5% and inflation at around 3%.

External threats are forcing China to increase military spending, which will rise 7.2% this year compared to 2023. Thus, the defense budget will be 1,665 billion yuan (about $232 billion). It is worth noting that China already increased military spending by the same amount last year.

On the Taiwan issue, Premier Li expressed “full determination” to oppose the island’s independence: “China firmly opposes Taiwan’s independence and the activities of separatists seeking independence,” said the premier, according to whom “the Communist Party’s historic political line will be continued to resolve the Taiwan issue once and for all.” Therefore, China will remain faithful to the One China principle and the 1992 Consensus, while continuing to oppose separatist activities aimed at Taiwan’s independence and external interference as firmly as possible.

Nevertheless, China intends to pursue an “independent and peaceful foreign policy,” as well as a mutually beneficial opening-up. Premier Li Qiang stressed the need to maintain “a just and orderly world characterized by multipolarity and inclusiveness,” reiterating, however, that China opposes “hegemony and acts of intimidation.” China is willing to work with the international community to implement the “Initiatives for Global Development, Security and Civilization” promoted by President Xi Jinping, as well as promote reform of the Western-dominated global governance to build a “common community of the future.”