China’s top economic official announced a healthy growth target for the nation Friday and its plans to become a more self-reliant technology leader amid tension with Washington and Europe over trade, Hong Kong and human rights.
The ruling Communist Party is aiming for economic growth of “over 6 percent” as it rebounds from the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic, Premier Li Keqiang said in a speech to China’s ceremonial legislature. Some 3,000 delegates gathered for its annual two-week meeting, the year’s highest-profile political event, under intense security and anti-virus controls.
The party is shifting from fighting the virus that emerged in central China in late 2019 back to its longer-term goals of becoming a global competitor in profitable technologies and promoting self-sustaining growth based on domestic consumer spending instead of trade and investment.
The NPC’s annual meeting usually focuses on domestic issues but increasingly is overshadowed by geopolitics as President Xi Jinping’s government pursues more assertive trade and strategic policies abroad, cracks down on dissent at home and faces criticism over its treatment of Hong Kong and ethnic minorities.
China became the only major country to grow last year, eking out a multi-decade low 2.3-percent expansion after shutting down most of its economy to fight Covid-19. The world’s second-largest economy grew by 6.5 percent over a year earlier in the final quarter of 2020 while the United States, Europe and Japan struggled with renewed virus outbreaks.
Li vowed to “work faster to enhance our strategic scientific and technological capability” seen by communist leaders as a path to prosperity, strategic autonomy and global influence. Those plans are threatened by tension with Washington over technology and security that prompted then-President Donald Trump to slap sanctions on China’s fledgling telecom and other tech industries.
The party will “regard scientific and technological self-reliance as a strategic support for national development,” Li said.
Li promised to pursue “green development” following Xi’s pledge last year to ensure China’s carbon emissions peak by 2030 and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. That will require sharp increases in clean and renewable energy in an economy that gets 60 percent of its power from coal and is the world’s biggest source of climate-changing industrial pollution.
“We will expedite the transition of China’s growth model to one of green development and promote both high-quality economic growth and high-standard environmental protection,” Li said. He promised to reduce carbon emissions and energy use per unit of economic output.