Tighter control and high-tech push: Key takeaways from China’s biggest annual political event

Tighter control and high-tech push: Key takeaways from China’s biggest annual political event - Politics - News

China’s Political Elites Gather in Beijing: Xi Jinping’s Unwavering Commitment to Make China a High-Tech Powerhouse

The political landscape of China is undergoing significant shifts as the country grapples with economic challenges and intensifying tech war with the United States. Despite these hurdles, China’s leaders delivered a resilient message to the thousands of political elites assembled in Beijing – China will remain steadfastly committed to its transformation into a high-tech powerhouse under the guidance of supreme leader Xi Jinping.

The sense of confidence permeated throughout a week of meticulously orchestrated meetings of China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) and the top political advisory body, which concluded on March 5 with a grand ceremony held in the historic Great Hall of the People. The event, which was conducted largely without Covid restrictions for the first time in years, offered a rare opportunity to observe an increasingly veiled political system under Xi’s leadership.

A notable absence during the NPC was the customary press conference conducted by China’s Premier, a tradition that has offered foreign media and Chinese public valuable insights into the country’s second-in-command for decades. However, Beijing took everyone by surprise when it announced last week that this tradition would no longer be observed. This sudden decision generated concern among observers due to the government’s shrinking transparency.

The era of collective leadership, a model that emerged following the chaos of Mao Zedong’s authoritarian rule, has taken a back seat once again under Xi. The Premier and his State Council, which functions as China’s cabinet, have been sidelined in recent years as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) assumed a more prominent role in controlling the government and its messaging.

This was further underscored during the NPC, as delegates unanimously approved updates to a law governing the organization of the State Council, solidifying its role in executing the CCP’s directives.

An underlying theme that emerged from the gathering was a push to shift China’s economic model towards technology innovation and transform it into a high-tech powerhouse. In his address, Premier Li Keqiang emphasized the importance of self-reliance and strength in science and technology. He outlined plans to upgrade industrial supply chains, enhance China’s position as a high-tech innovator, and boost the annual budget for science and technology by 10%.

A new policy buzzword, “new quality productive forces,” was also introduced. Coined by Xi last year, this term refers to high-tech sectors such as new energy vehicles, artificial intelligence, renewable energy, and advanced manufacturing. Xi’s desire to place China at the forefront of the global race for critical technologies was evident.

This emphasis on self-reliance in science and technology comes after the United States tightened export control measures on cutting-edge technologies to China, particularly in the field of artificial intelligence. Washington expressed concerns that these technologies could be utilized for military purposes.

During the “two sessions,” Foreign Minister Wang Yi accused the US of attempting to suppress China and denounced its trade and tech controls as reaching “bewildering levels of unfathomable absurdity.”

The economy was a primary focus during the event, as China grappled with a property sector crisis, burdensome local government debt, deflation, stock market volatility, and tech friction with the US – all contributing to public dissatisfaction and investor uncertainty. Chinese leaders remained optimistic about the economy, unveiling a growth target of around 5% for 2024, although no significant stimulus measures were announced to boost flagging consumption.

Despite the absence of key personnel appointments during this year’s gathering – most notably the vacant positions previously occupied by Li and Qin Gang – Beijing declined to fill these posts. The lack of appointments may have disappointed some observers, who had anticipated that Beijing would make a new Foreign Minister appointment at this event. However, it is important to note that Wang Yi has been serving as acting Foreign Minister since Qin’s removal in July 2022.

This annual meeting of the NPC failed to live up to expectations for some observers, who had hoped for significant personnel changes to fill senior State Council roles that have remained vacant since an abrupt shake-up in the ranks of Xi’s handpicked ministers.

Foreign Minister Qin Gang was abruptly removed from his post without explanation in July 2022, followed by the removal of Defense Minister Li Shangfu months later. Both men had disappeared from public view before being replaced.

In conclusion, the 2023 NPC provided valuable insights into China’s evolving political landscape and its commitment to technology innovation under Xi Jinping’s leadership. The lack of transparency surrounding certain decisions, particularly the absence of the customary Premier press conference and the failure to fill key government positions, raised concerns among observers. However, China’s determination to transform itself into a high-tech powerhouse remains unwavering, despite external challenges and economic headwinds.