Comment

In pursuit of power

At the meeting of China’s National People’s Congress, the unicameral legislature, and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a broad political advisory body, on March 5, Prime Minister Li Keqiang spoke of the U.S.’s attempt to contain China and of Beijing’s attempts to win the economic, technological and strategic competition against the U.S. He unveiled plans to transform China into a manufacturing superpower by 2025 by upgrading its global competitiveness in eight core areas: rare earth materials; robotics; aircraft engines; new energy vehicles; high-end medical devices; major equipment in shipbuilding, aviation and high-speed rail; agricultural machinery; and applications of BeiDou.

Major announcements

How will China do this? It will “fix weak links of components, software and fundamental systems” by boosting expenditure on basic research and raising investment in research and development over the next five years. It will try to attract more foreign talent and explore “science and technology immigration.” Value addition in the digital economy will be expanded to 10% by 2025.

Though China has made considerable advances in 5G, artificial intelligence, drones, bio and financial technologies, progress has been patchy in high-end technologies for manufacturing engines for its fifth-generation aircraft, miniaturisation of nuclear reactors for aircraft carriers or semiconductors and microchips.

Other major announcements included expansion of the Chinese military budget. China will continue to modernise its navy, missile and strategic forces to challenge the U.S.’s dominance in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.

Disregarding external criticism, China will strengthen its grip on Hong Kong by overhauling its election laws to ensure that “patriots govern” it. Similarly, Beijing will push its efforts to assimilate China’s ethnic minorities such as Uighurs, Tibetans, Mongols and others. Public protests will be dealt like “fight on a battlefield,” it was added.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson reacted strongly saying the Biden administration would “harness collective action against Beijing for rights abuses”. The European Union (EU) urged Beijing to be careful in tinkering with Hong Kong’s electoral system saying that it was ready to take additional steps to prevent serious deterioration of political freedoms and human rights.

China will make more efforts to augment its economic partnership with the EU, ASEAN, Japan and South Korea. It has already signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership with a number of Asian countries and the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment with the EU. It is working to sign free trade agreements with Japan and South Korea. China is hoping to lure these countries away from the U.S. by offering increased market access.

Mr. Li proposed an economic growth rate of 6% for 2021 to cut down on debt and disorderly investments. Domestic consumption will be increased by amending the hukou system providing residency permits in the cities to the rural migrants. China’s Five-Year Plan for 2021-25 calls for the construction of a Polar Silk Road aimed at extracting natural gas below the melting rice in the Arctic and establishing a faster shipping route to Europe via the North Arctic.

Meeting targets

Chinese leaders are accustomed to pronouncing ambitious targets at important meetings to maintain high national fervour and seek greater attention from global investors and business leaders. Often, the targets are imprecisely spelt out without any specific plans of implementation. No one is allowed to question if these targets have been missed. For instance, one target was to achieve a “moderately well-off society by 2021”. Mr. Li himself admitted that 600 million Chinese had an income of just 1,000 yuan. Whether these targets will be achieved is anybody’s guess, but according to Professor of Chinese Politics, Carlos Minzer, these pronouncements are likely to help President Xi Jinping secure a third term next year.

Yogesh Gupta is a former Ambassador

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Printable version | Apr 16, 2021 4:19:42 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/in-pursuit-of-power/article34021336.ece

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