China’s annual parliament opens Sunday, carrying out the biggest government reshuffle in a decade, as Xi Jinping tightens control and grapples with a myriad of challenges, from an uneven post-coronavirus economic recovery to faltering relations with the United States.
Nearly 3,000 delegates will gather in the Great Hall of the People west of Tiananmen Square for the first National People’s Congress (NPC) in the post-coronavirus era, although some precautions remain in place, including testing and quarantine for journalists.
China’s National People’s Congress will affirm Xi’s new economic team after China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong endorsed an anti-normative third term and filled the ruling Communist Party’s summit with allies at its biennial congress in October.
On Tuesday, state media reported after a three-day meeting of the CPC Central Committee that the meeting would also discuss Xi’s plans for an “intensive” and “comprehensive” reorganization of the state and Communist Party entities.
“This is likely to lead to greater integration of State Council ministries into the party under the name of overall party leadership,” said Wen Te Song, professor of political science at the Australian National University.
According to policy sources and analysts, the government is likely to target economic growth of 5% to 6% for 2023 to contain unemployment, with measures to boost consumption and foreign investment, among others, but few breakthrough reforms are expected.
China’s economy grew just 3% last year, one of its worst results in nearly half a century.
Loyalist Li Qiang, the former party chief in Shanghai, is poised to become prime minister, tasked with running the world’s second-largest economy, as investors cautiously hope his ties to Xi will allow him to pursue more business-friendly policies after a booming statistic. .
The National People’s Congress will put new faces at the helm of key economic and regulatory bodies, including the central bank, to replace a generation of leaders seen as more reformist, such as outgoing Premier Li Keqiang and economic czar Liu He, vice premier. . minister.
“The National People’s Congress will be a continuation of the 20th Party Congress, and will resolutely implement the Party’s decisions made at that time, including focusing on security,” said Alfred Wu, assistant professor at Lee Kuan Yew Public College, National University of Singapore. Politics.
The NPC comes at a difficult time for China and Xi, who abruptly abandoned his coronavirus policy in December after three years following widespread protests unprecedented during his tenure.
It comes against the backdrop of a demographic transition that saw the population shrink for the first time since 1961, while urban employment fell last year for the first time in six decades, and per capita spending fell.
Worsening relations with the United States, which is cutting off China’s access to advanced technologies, and a sluggish global economy are adding headwinds to Xi, who will run for a third term as president after scrapping constitutional provisions in 2018.
Li Qiang, 63, a provincial-level veteran whose prospects were unscathed by his handling of Shanghai’s two-month coronavirus lockdown last year, will become the People’s Republic of China’s first prime minister to never serve in the central government.
“The beginning of his tenure could be a little challenging as he’s trying to find his place on the State Council and really understands how to make it work for him,” said Trey McRver, co-founder of Trivium China, a research group.
Deng Xuexiang, a former aide to Xi who would become the most senior vice premier, also has no management experience at the central level.
The conference, which usually lasts one to two weeks, will begin with the presentation of a work report from outgoing Li in 2023, which is expected to focus on boosting an economy devastated by three years of COVID restrictions and a downturn in the real estate sector.
“We will aim to stimulate growth, and we have policy tools to do so, especially by investing money in major projects,” Xu Hongcai, deputy director of the economic policy committee of the state-sponsored China Political Science Association, told Reuters.
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