Premier Li’s work report: Full speed ahead
By Harvey Dzodin
I always look forward to the first session of the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress (NPC). It’s not just the colorful traditional clothes of representatives from China’s 56 ethnic minority groups, although that’s a visual treat and a vivid reminder of China’s diversity. It’s actually the Chinese Premier’s Government Work Report that I anticipate as it measures China’s continuing dramatic progress.
I especially looked forward to Premier Li Keqiang 2018 presentation since this year’s report reviews the five-year period since the first session of the 12th NPC in 2013 as well as a one year look back and a presentation of China’s goals for the future. Premier Li did not disappoint!
The first session of the 13th National People's Congress opens at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, March 5, 2018.[Photo: Xinhua]
Americans with little or no knowledge of China’s governance might think that the annual report is like our State of the Union address (SOTU); it’s not. In fact, they’re as different as apples and oranges. Our SOTU is mainly political, mostly full of vague promises and generalizations. It’s soon forgotten and was presented this year by President Donald Trump but I like to say that there are two Trumps: Teleprompter Trump who stays on message and is more disciplined and orderly, and Twitter Trump who is the polar opposite. Twitter Trump delivered the SOTU but in the days following disorganized and chaotic Twitter Trump quickly returned and is still with us. By marked contrast, Premier Li’s report, consistent with others he previously delivered, is full of specific metrics and measures, and serves as a useful management tool to measure against the ambitious goals usually put forward. Comparing the two I say that literally and figuratively one country is building bridges and the other is building walls.
Premier Li’s report shows the spectacular economic rise of China on this 40th anniversary of reform and opening up. According to Victor Gao, who was Deng Xiaoping’s interpreter, and with whom I am honored to appear on CGTN and CRI from time-to-time, when Deng’s Reform and Opening Up policies were announced China’s foreign exchange reserves (FER) were about US$100 million. At a meeting Deng announced that China’s FER might even one day reach $10 billion. Four decades later the FER is in excess of the then unimaginable three trillion dollars.
Today, China is the world's number one economy by purchasing power parity and the second-largest by official exchange rate. China is not merely the largest manufacturing and largest trading country, it is the world’s largest consumer market, and largest trading partner of more than 120 countries.
And China keeps on going and keeps on growing under the leadership of President and General Secretary Xi Jinping under whom China’s GDP has grown from 54 trillion to 82.7 trillion RMB, an average annual growth of 7.3% in the last five years. China’s contribution to the global economy has grown from 11.4% to about 15% and China’s contribution to global growth is in excess of 30%.
If you drill right down to its essence, Premier Li’s report is the action plan for the speech delivered by General Secretary Xi Jinping at the 19th National Conference of the Communist Party of China last October. To me the most important part of that speech was the redefinition of the principal contradiction from "the ever-growing material and cultural needs of the people and backward social production;" to "unbalanced and inadequate development and the people's ever-growing needs for a better life."
In the West, most of us are ignorant about the centrality of the concept of contradictions. However, in China, it is of immense importance, being derived from the Marxist concept of dialectical materialism related to the interaction of contradictory social forces, for example between the two opposing social classes, capitalists versus proletariat, etc.
While many contradictions co-exist, there is only one of such importance that it must be successfully addressed lest it pose an existential threat. Meeting the challenge of addressing the principal contradiction by providing balanced and adequate development to meet the people's ever-growing needs for a better life requires innovative solutions of great magnitude and increased frequency. And we can see that the essence of Premier Li’s Work Report is to address this contradiction through innovation, a term Li used 53 times.
Three specific national initiatives will lead to the innovation mentioned by both Xi and Li. Made in China (MIC 2025) is a national project to enable the country to become self-sufficient in manufacturing with homegrown solutions within the next eight years; meanwhile, AI 2030 has the goal of making China the leader in Artificial Intelligence. And to help power the innovation China has just implemented a new long-stay fast-track visa policy for foreign "high-end talent" and their families.
There is independent proof that China is already well on the road to innovation leadership. In the February 2018 GE Global Innovation Barometer of 2,090 corporate innovation executives from 20 major economies, only five countries are seen to have a very strong innovation-conducive market environment led by China. Given the high targets set by Premier Li, there is no doubt that this trend will continue accelerate, especially given that countries like the United States are cutting back on R&D in the very areas that China has marked for growth.
So if past is prologue, based on the speech of President and General Secretary Xi in October and that of Premier Li earlier this week, China’s upward trajectory will not only continue, but will continue to strengthen.
(Dr. Harvey Dzodin serves as Nonresident Research Fellow of the think tank Center for China and Globalization)