he global media, gathered in Beijing in early March for China’s annual legislative meetings, known as the two sessions, put their spotlight on political issues like the amendment to the Chinese Constitution that removed presidential term limits.
Yet other vital issues were largely sidelined, like the adoption of “high-quality” development as China’s new economic strategy, which indicates a new round of ambitious reforms in the economic field.
Delegates at the two sessions, annual meetings of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), convened on March 5, and were the latest group of lawmakers to underline China’s change in economic strategy, following a series of reports released after several high-level government meetings at the end of 2017.
In October 2017, during the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in Beijing, the Party’s blueprint declared that “China’s economy has been transitioning from a phase of rapid growth to a stage of high-quality growth,” and that it is “a pivotal stage for transforming our growth model, improving our economic structure, and fostering new drivers of growth.”
And in December, after the Central Economic Work Conference, at which economic strategy is mapped out for the following year, the central leadership stated that promoting high-quality growth would underpin China’s development strategies, economic policies and macroeconomic regulations.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, giving his annual government report to the NPC on March 5, devoted a large part of the report to the issue of promoting high-quality growth and building a “modern economic system.”
The definition of high-quality growth, said He Lifeng, director of the National Development and Reform Commission, China’s top economic planning body, is development that is more efficient, fairer and more sustainable, at a press conference on March 6.
According to Zhang Zhanbin, an economist from the Chinese Academy of Governance and a CPPCC member, the emphasis on quality is a response to the fact that after decades of rapid economic development, people’s aspirations have transformed from more homogeneous material benefits to more comprehensive, personalised and dynamic ones.
This is something that was also recognised by the central leadership in its report at the 19th CPC National Congress.
“As socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new era, the principal contradiction facing Chinese society has evolved. What we now face is the contradiction between unbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s ever-growing needs for a better life,” which “represents a historic shift that affects the whole landscape and that creates many new demands for the work of the Party and the country,” it said.
“More specifically, China’s major economic imbalance is between supply and demand, and between the financial and real estate sector and the real economy. To solve these problems, China must shift from a speed-oriented approach [to economic growth] to a quality-centreed one,” Zhang said.
Yang Weimin, a deputy director at the Office of the Central Leading Group on Financial and Economic Affairs, told ChinaReport that after decades of high-speech economic growth, China’s economy has reached a tipping point. It is only by shifting the focus from speed to quality that economic development will become sustainable.
The economic growth rate was set at 6.5 percent for 2018 in the government report delivered at the NPC, lower than the 6.9 percent target in 2017.
During the March 6 press conference, Yang told media that a slowdown of China’s economic growth is “inevitable,” and this gradual slowdown will be “the norm” for a long time.
“We should take it easy, and work forward to achieve high-quality growth,” said Yang.