China sets 5 per cent growth target as President Xi begins new five-year term

Beijing: China on Sunday set a five per cent growth target for 2023 as the country’s rubber-stamp Parliament commenced its annual session which also heralded a new era for Xi Jinping’s presidency as he began an unprecedented third five-year term.

Premier Li Keqiang, 67, the No 2 ranked leader after Xi and is widely regarded as far less powerful than his predecessors, signed off his 10-year stint by presenting his last work report to the National People’s Congress (NPC) in which China, the world’s second-largest economy, set a five per cent growth target for 2023, lowest in decades.

He also firmly warned of “escalating” external attempts to “suppress, and contain” China.

“The term of this government is about to come to a close,” said Li, as he began his 39-page address to NPC, the national legislature, outlining the decade-old achievement of his administration which included seismic changes in China and its relations with the world.

The NPC during the session will herald new official appointments at the top expected to be packed with Xi’s loyalists many of whom were elected along with him at the last October’s once-in-a-five-year Congress of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC).

The session formally heralded the beginning of the unprecedented” third five-year term for Xi.

The Congress, besides electing Xi, 69, for an unprecedented third term also chose most of his loyalists for key bodies consolidating his power at all levels.

Li, an economist and a contender for the post of General Secretary of the CPC in 2012 along with Xi, settled for a number two position after his mentor and former president Hu Jintao backed Xi at the last minute, enabling him to emerge as the most powerful leader heading the party, the military and the Presidency.

As Xi became more powerful, Li mostly confined himself to managing the economy, unlike his predecessors who enjoyed more power in running the government.

Li is widely expected to be succeeded by Li Qiang, a Xi loyalist and the former party boss of Shanghai, to head the new administration to grapple with China’s external and internal challenges under Xi’s leadership.

In his last work report, Li who last year announced his retirement from politics, set a five per cent GDP target for this year after China last year logged a three per cent growth rate, the country’s second lowest in 50 years, besides the target to generate 12 million jobs.

Li said during the past 10 years China’s GDP registered an annual growth rate of 6.2 per cent.

Foreign exchange reserves remained stable at over USD trillion. These figures show that China’s economic strength has increased significantly, he said.

Besides highlighting a host achievement under Xi’s leadership in the last 10 years, including eradicating absolute poverty, Li also cautioned about problems China faces, including “prominent imbalances and inadequacies in its development”.

“Today, many difficulties and challenges still confront us. Uncertainties in the external environment are on the rise. Global inflation remains high, global economic and trade growth is losing steam, and external attempts to suppress and contain China are escalating,” he said, apparently referring to Beijing’s growing rivalry with the US and European Union.

“At home, the foundation for stable growth needs to be consolidated, insufficient demand remains a pronounced problem, and the expectations of private investors and businesses are unstable”, he said.

“Corruption remains a common problem in some fields, sectors, and localities,” he said, adding that “we must face these problems and challenges squarely, make every effort to make improvements, and do all we can to live up to the people’s trust.”

During the opening session, China also hiked its defence budget by 7.2 per cent, marginally higher than last year, to 1.55 trillion yuan (about USD 224 billion), marking the eighth consecutive year of increase in military spending.

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China last year pegged its defence budget at 1.45 trillion yuan, a 7.1 per cent increase. This year the defence spending is increased to 1.55 trillion yuan.

China’s armed forces, with a focus on the goals for the centenary of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in 2027, should work to carry out military operations, boost combat preparedness and enhance military capabilities so as to accomplish the tasks entrusted to them by the CPC (Chinese Communist Party) and the people, Li said.

The armed forces should intensify military training and preparedness across the board, develop new military strategic guidance, devote greater energy to training under combat conditions, and make well-coordinated efforts to strengthen military work in all directions and domains, Li said.

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