major achievement of the First Session of the 13th National People’s Congress, China’s highest legislative body, was the green lighting of a significant restructuring of the State Council, in which 15 government agencies will be axed amid a major revamp. The extensive overhaul will also create and amalgamate government agencies, meaning there will now be 26 ministries and commissions, as well as the General Office of the State Council.
The restructuring is a response to a central government push to streamline the number of government departments and staff, and the focus is on making government functions more efficient by integrating agencies. For example, the Ministry of Land Resources, the State Oceanic Administration and the National Administration of Surveying, Mapping and Geoinformation were combined into the Ministry of National Resources, and the National Health and Family Planning Commission and the State Council’s office on medicine and medical reform were merged into the National Health Commission. The mergers will create a more efficient bureaucracy, analysts said, serving to cut the number of excess staff and overlapping functions, which currently make it hard to clarify who has responsibility for what.
The new agencies created by the reshuffle are also more suited to modern conditions. A typical example is the Ministry of Supervision and the National Corruption Prevention Bureau will become the higher-level State Supervisory Committee (not under but at the same level as the State Council) to continue the fight against graft both in and beyond officialdom, based on China’s new anti-corruption law, the Supervision Law.
Two of the new agencies, the Ministry of Veterans Affairs and the Ministry of Emergency Management were particularly praised for meeting public needs.
Judging from online public opinion on popular social networking tools such as Sina Weibo and WeChat, the latest restructuring of the State Council has received wide support. Many netizens remarked on the government’s resolve to better serve the people while reducing the budget, just as it pledged in its annual work report. Yet, as Ma Liang, a researcher at the National Academy of Development and Strategy at the Renmin University of China, commented on news portal The Paper, the long-term effect of the restructuring depends on how local governments make corresponding reforms, and how the new or merged departments cooperate with the Party’s departments, as the Communist Party of China said during the congress that it intends to lead the government departments in diversified ways.
impose heavy duties on Chinese imports on March 22, triggering wide speculation that China and the US will slide into an inevitable trade war.
The newly signed memorandum, if finally passed by the US Congress, will impose duties on Chinese imports to the value of US$60 billion and will work out a programme on restricting Chinese investment in American enterprises. Global stock markets slumped on the back on the news.
China issued a tough response. “We do not want to have a trade war with the United States or with anybody else, but we are not afraid of it. If somebody tries to impose a trade war on us, we will fight...” said Chinese Ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai in an interview with China Global Television Network (CGTN).
According to Trump, one of the major reasons that he signed the memorandum is that China has violated US intellectual property rights, an accusation Cui said was “groundless” and “discriminating.” “If a trade war was initiated by the US, China would fight to the end to defend its own legitimate interests with all necessary measures,” said a statement released on the website of China’s Embassy in the US on March 23.
In early March, Liu He made an official visit to the US as director of General Office of China’s Central Leading Group for Financial and Economic Affairs. Liu talked with Trump’s economic team about trade balance and market access. However, as analysts just began to believe that bilateral dialogue would greatly reduce the possibility of a trade war, Trump signed an order imposing 25 percent and 10 percent duties on imported steel and aluminium. The order sparked big disputes in the White House and was heavily opposed by many trade groups and other countries.
On the morning of March 23, China’s Ministry of Commerce published on its website a list of American imports, the value of which was reported to be US$3 billion, on which they plan to halt tariff concessions. The ministry claimed that if China and the US fail to reach a trade compensatory agreement, the list will take effect.
Data from the European Patent Office (EPO) showed that the number of patent applications China submitted in 2017 put it among the top five countries, the first time China has been ranked so high by the EPO.
The EPO’s latest annual report revealed they received 165,590 international patent applications in 2017. Of these, 8,330 came from China, a 16.6 percent year-on-year growth, a faster rate than any other country or region.
China’s inventions concentrated on digital communication, computer technology and telecommunication, with those on measurement, fine organic chemistry and biotechnology growing fastest. As China’s leading telecom provider, Huawei made a great contribution to China’s ranking by being the enterprise that applied for the biggest number of patents at the EPO.
Following British Prime Minister Theresa May’s visit to China in early 2017, work goes on to strengthen economic ties.
Specifically, the UK’s foremost representative of its financial sector, Lord Mayor of the City of London, Charles Bowman, spent much of March visiting China. Bowman explained his aim in The Daily Telegraph as involving “sowing the seeds of economic co-operation for the future, while building on the decades of dialogue and engagement between our two countries.” This included Bowman’s aspiration to help
“position London as the natural Western hub of the Belt and Road Initiative.”
Meanwhile, Chinese Ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming and over 150 Chinese investors were hosted in London’s City Hall on 21 March by the UK capital’s elected mayor Sadiq Khan.
The City Hall event also saw the launch of a digital hub for the Belt and Road Initiative. The UK’s pitch has not gone unanswered by competitors such as Ireland, which has said it wants to replace the UK as China’s “trusted friend” in Europe after Brexit. Not to be outdone, Germany’s Federal Statistics office has reported China was their largest trading partner in 2017.
The race between European countries for second place in the China stakes will be keenly fought.
With universities such as Nottingham and renowned public schools like Harrow and Uppingham opening campuses in China, there is a strong brand on the ground for UK education.
In a key step forward, UK-China education cooperation is also developing in the field of early childhood education.
This was seen in March when two UK ministries, the Department of Education and Skills and the Department for International Trade (DiT) worked with the British Embassy in China to lead a roadshow of 16 British schools and nursery schools in the four cities of Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu and Shenzhen.
According to the latest data from DiT, the number of British school brands entering China will double by 2020, and the number of UK schools opened in China will increase to more than 50.
Education is a significant industry in the UK with great export potential. It is a key feature of the UK-China Golden Era and was a major focus of UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s visit to China earlier this year, when £550 million of deals were announced. Fifteen of those deals are collaborations between UK schools or nursery schools and their Chinese partners.
There is clearly a bigger opportunity, and money to be made, in offering Chinese consumers of British education a solid start at the pre-school stage.
China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) recently revealed the government has put more than 60 billion yuan (US$9.2b) into fighting air pollution since the new Action Plan against Air Pollution took effect in September 2013.
Thanks to the huge input, China, according to the MEP, has reached its preliminary objective set out in the Action Plan. Specifically, the average concentration of PM10 (inhalable particles with a diameter less than 10 micrometres) in major cities dropped by 22.7 percent in 2017 compared to that in 2013.
PM2.5 (inhalable particles with a diameter less than 2.5 micrometres) concentration in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, the Yangtze River Delta and the Pearl River Delta, where air pollution has been designated a key issue for the government to deal with, dropped by 39.6 percent, 34.3 percent and 27.7 percent in the same period.
Lowered coal consumption is a leading contributor to the air quality improvement. Over the past five years, China’s coal consumption fell from 67.5 percent of total primary energy consumption to 60 percent, with more than 200,000 inefficient heating furnaces shut down. The MEP has also eliminated around 20 million polluting vehicles and raised emission standards since January 1, 2017.
There are 1,436 stations to monitor air quality nationwide. The MEP pledged to keep tightening pollution controls and concentrate more efforts on tackling the spread of long-distance pollution and cross-regional pollution.