Near-full transcript of Premier Li Qiang's press conference
The economy, private sector, population, China-US relations, government building, etc.
Li Qiang today - Monday, March 13, 2023 - held his first press conference as Chinese Premier after the closing of an annual National People’s Congress session.
In today's piece, Ginger River Review (GRR) presents the near-full English-language transcript of the presser, which is probably the first and currently only one available.
The translation comes from the on-site male translator which was aired nationally. The GRR team transcribed and typed up the translation. The questions have been omitted. The press conference lasted about one hour and twenty minutes.
The premier's response to China's population issue and the "China-US decoupling theory," as well as his comments encouraging officials to seek advice from the grassroots level, have received the most attention from Chinese netizens and have become Monday's trending topics on Weibo, China's Twitter-like social media network. [as of 2:00 p.m. (0600 GMT)]
On the economy
Honestly speaking, most people do not keep their eyes on GDP growth all the time. What they care more about are the things that happen in everyday life, like housing, employment, income, education, medical services, and the environment. Therefore, the government must always plan and carry out its work in light of what the people feel and act according to people's wish.
China has made great progress in economic and social development. We are now the second-largest economy in the world. But China's development is still imbalanced and inadequate. Any aggregate volume when divided by the 1.4 billion population will become a small per capita figure. Currently, our development is focused on providing for people's basic needs, and going forward, the focus will be shifted towards delivering a life of better quality for people. In particular, we will enhance our capacity in science, technology and innovation, accelerate the building of the modern market system and transition toward green development, etc.
We will remain steadfast in deepening reform and opening up. Reform and opening up is a crucial move that has made China what it is today. In the historical process of advancing Chinese modernization and realizing the second centenary goal, we must continue to firmly pursue the path of reform and opening up. We will keep to the direction of socialist market economy reform, promote higher level opening up and inject stronger vitality into China's development by deepening reform.
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The prospect of the global economy this year is not optimistic. We see many factors of uncertainty and instability and also unpredictable factors. And sometimes there are also unexpected incidents. Stabilizing economic growth is a challenging task, not just for China, but for all countries in the world. This year we have set the GDP growth target at around 5 percent, which is based on the consideration of various factors. Currently, China's total economic output has already exceeded 120 trillion yuan (about 17.24 trillion U.S. dollars). We also face quite a number of new challenges. So, to achieve around 5 percent growth on such a high base figure is not an easy task and it would require redoubled efforts.
As for the specific economic policies, the Central Economic Work Conference last year already laid out a comprehensive plan. Basically, we will keep to the general principles of prioritizing stability and seeking progress while maintaining stability. And we will push for a turnaround in overall economic performance. On stability, the emphasis will be placed on ensuring stable growth, stable prices, and stable jobs. On progress, the key will be making progress on high-quality development. As for our specific work going forward, we will introduce a number of policy combinations, including the following aspects: combination of macro policies, combination of policies for expanding both domestic and external demand and also investment, combination of policies for advancing reform and innovation, including institutional innovation, innovation in science and technology, and industrial innovation, and also combination of policies for preventing and defusing risks. These policy combinations will all be supported by concrete implementing steps. Due to the interest of time, I will not elaborate on them, but we will enrich, adjust and improve these policy combinations in the course of implementation.
Indeed, China's economic development is supported by quite a number of advantages. For example, we have a super-size market that is irreplaceable. We have a well-functioning industrial system. We have a rich supply of human resources. We have a strong development foundation. But most importantly, we have notable institutional strength. Talking about difficulties with the Chinese economy, I think all countries are confronted with some difficulties and we see no less difficulty for China this year. But think about it, is there any single period or any single year when we have no difficulty at all? The Chinese people have always managed to pull through difficult time and achieve new progress and create new miracles.
As the economic performance in the first two months of this year demonstrates, the Chinese economy is stabilizing and picking up again. And some international organizations have also revised upward their projections for China's economic growth this year. To sum up, I believe the Chinese economy will break winds and waves, and sail toward a brighter future.
On Hong Kong and Macau
It is true that in recent years, due to various factors, both Hong Kong and Macao have experienced some difficulties in their development. But I believe these are temporary difficulties that have arrived in the course of development. The central government will fully, faithfully, and resolutely implement the policy of "one country, two systems". We will give full support to Hong Kong and Macao in integrating into the country's overall development. We will give full support to the two regions in growing the economy and improving people's livelihood. We will give full support to the two regions in further building their global competitiveness. I'm confident with the strong backing of the motherland and the institutional safeguards of the "one country, two systems" policy, the position and role of Hong Kong and Macao will only be strengthened [and will not be weakened].
On private sector
You may have noticed that when meeting with the 14th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) during the two sessions, General Secretary Xi Jinping elaborated on the importance of ensuring healthy and high-quality development of private economy and private entrepreneurs. General Secretary Xi’s words were very well received and made private entrepreneurs feel both motivated and encouraged.
I have worked in localities with a strong private economy for a long time, and I have had opportunities to talk with local entrepreneurs on various occasions. I should say I am pretty well informed of their aspirations and the difficulties they have faced in their development. I want to take this opportunity to mainly convey the following messages:
The first, the policy of "two unswervingly", namely unswervingly consolidating and developing the public sector and unswervingly encouraging, supporting, and guiding the development of the non-public sector, is a basic element of China's basic economic system. This is a long-term policy that has not changed in the past and will not change in the future.
Indeed, last year, there were some inappropriate discussions about private entrepreneurs, which made them feel frustrated. As a matter of fact, the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee has clear policies and principles regarding the development of the private economy. Both the Party's 19th and 20th National Congresses and the Central Economic Work Conference last year [See GRR's coverage: Xi Jinping on China's major economic issues, which was part of Xi's speech in the annual Central Economic Work Conference] all reaffirmed these policies and principles. Our commitment in this regard is unequivocal and steadfast.
The second point I want to make is that private entrepreneurs or enterprises will enjoy a better environment and broader space for development. Standing at a new starting point, this government will continue to foster a market-based and law-based business environment in keeping with international standards, treat companies under all types of ownership as equals protect the property rights of enterprises and the rise and interests of entrepreneurs in accordance with law. We will create a level playing field for all kinds of market entities and will make further efforts to support private entrepreneurs grow and thrive. As for development space, China has a super-sized market with huge demand. There are a lot of new sectors and new racing tracks that can be tapped. All this promises great opportunities for private entrepreneurs.
As we all know, economic development follows certain economic laws and depends on the conditions available. However, it is even more important to bring out people's initiative. So I do hope that private entrepreneurs will carry forward their entrepreneurial spirit and strengthen their confidence as they start their new journey. Talking about this, I remember that back in the 1980s and 1990s, when my hometown Zhejiang province and neighboring Jiangsu province were developing the private economy and township enterprises, the local entrepreneurs cultivated a strong pioneering spirit to reach their goals. They were willing to explore all paths, go through all troubles, try all means, and endure all hardships. Although the conditions, environment, and models of entrepreneurship are vastly different today, this kind of pioneering spirit of clearing obstacles and blazing new trails will always be needed. Government officials at all levels must sincerely care for and support the development of private enterprises, make friends with private entrepreneurs, build clean and cordial relations with them, and take the lead in promoting a culture of respect for pioneers and entrepreneurs.
I am happy to answer questions raised by netizens. I would call myself a veteran netizen because when I have time, I also go online quite a lot to see what the netizens are thinking and what suggestions they have for the work of the government.
Indeed, employment is the cornerstone of people's livelihood, but ultimately the solution to job creation lies in economic growth. As for the specific steps going forward, we will continue to pursue an employment-first strategy. We will increase government support in terms of employment services and technical training. We will take multiple steps to stabilize and expand employment. We will also support and regulate the development of new forms of employment. This year, we expect to see 11.58 million college graduates entering the workforce, which will be a record high. This large number certainly adds pressure to employment, but if we look at it from a development perspective, it could be a good thing because with so many young people entering the workforce, they can inject energy and vitality into our society. Going forward, we will further expand channels of employment. And in particular, we will help and support young people to realize their personal values through hard work.
Regarding population growth, I've also noticed that the negative population growth in China has caused much concern. Some people are worried that China's demographic dividend may be disappearing, but I don't think it is that simple. When assessing demographic dividend, we should look at not just the quantity but also the quality of the population. We should not just look at the sheer size of the population, but also look at the scale of the high-caliber workforce.
Now we have close to 900 million working-age population, and every year 15 million people join the workforce. A rich supply of human resources remains China's notable strength. More importantly, we have more than 240 million people with experience in higher education, and the average length of education received by new entrance to the workforce has increased to 14 years. Therefore, China's demographic dividend has not disappeared, and our talent dividend is in the making. The driving force for China's development remains strong and robust. That said, we will conduct careful study on the social problems that may be brought by the changes in population and respond with appropriate steps.
Regarding the [retirement] postponement policy, I noticed that it is also quite a hot topic on the internet. We will conduct rigorous studies and thorough analysis to roll out the policy prudently in due course.
For the past 3 years, we have always put the people and their lives above everything else. We have adopted a well-conceived and targeted control of approach, and adjusted and improved our response measures in light of changing conditions.
At the beginning of the pandemic, when the virus was highly pathogenic, we made timely response with containment measures for Class A infectious disease. Such an effort helped protect people's life and health, and won us valuable time for the R&D of vaccines and medicines and for the rolling out of vaccination.
At the major stage when the virus became less pathogenic and with the increase in China's capacity for pandemic control, we have improved and adjusted our COVID response measures and achieved smooth transition in COVID response phase by putting COVID back to the category of Class B infectious disease.
China is a country with a large population and unbalanced development, yet it only took us less than two months to achieve a smooth transition in COVID response phase and restored normal economic and social order in relatively short span of time. This is indeed a remarkable achievement.
What has happened proves that China's COVID strategies and measures are completely right, and our COVID response has been highly effective.
Currently, the risk of virus transmission still exists, so we will continue to follow and study the evolving situation, build up our capacity for early warning and forecast. We have also made contingency plans for different kinds of scenarios.
We will also strengthen medial and health service system at all levels and speed up the development of new vaccines and drugs. We have also been engaged in communication and cooperation with international community to jointly protect the health and well-being of humanity.
Chinese on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are members of one and the same family. We share an unbreakable bond of blood and kinship. We will continue to promote economic and cultural exchanges and cooperation across the Taiwan strait on the basis of the one-China principle and the 1992 Consensus. And we also encourage more Taiwan compatriots and businesses to come to the mainland. We hope they will not just be willing to come to the mainland, but also be able to integrate into the local communities and achieve better development.
The early restoration of normal exchanges and regular cooperation between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait is our shared aspiration and requires our joint efforts.
On agriculture and food security
China is a major agricultural country. We now still have close to 500 million people permanently residing in the countryside. Without the modernization of rural sector and agriculture, socialist modernization would not be complete.
In promoting rural revitalization, we will focus on the following three keywords. The first keyword is "comprehensive." Rural revitalization is not just about economic growth. In my view, it is also important to bring out the economic, ecological, social, and cultural values of the countryside.
The second keyword is "distinctive features". China is a vast country. Cultures and customs vary from village to village, even though they might just be just miles apart. So different localities must develop countryside based on local conditions. It is important to protect and preserve the local and rural culture and also avoid a situation where all villages look the same.
The third keyword is "reform." We need to deepen the reform of the rural sector to provide drivers for rural revitalization. Farmers are the principal actors in rural revitalization. We need to bring out their initiative and let them take part in rural realization and share in the benefits of reform and development。
In terms of food security, the total grain output in China has stayed above 650 million metric tons for 8 years in a row. So on the whole, food security is well guaranteed in this country. Going forward, we will further increase our grain production capacity by focusing on two key factors: arable land and seeds. Here, I want to let our farmer friends know that the government's policy in support of grain production will only increase, not decrease. We encourage our farmers to produce more grains so as to make sure that the rice bowl of 1.4 billion Chinese people will always be firmly held in our own hands.
On reform and opening up policy
This year marks the 45th anniversary of the launch of reform and opening up in China. Reform and opening up have enabled China to develop itself and also made an impact on the whole world. From what I learned, most foreign companies are still optimistic about their development prospects in China. Last year, China's utilized foreign investment totaled 189 billion U.S. dollars, which is again a record high and it is even close to 50 billion U.S. dollars more than three years ago or before the pandemic. This demonstrates that China remains a popular destination for global investment.
Opening up is a basic state policy in China. No matter how the external situation may evolve, we will be committed to pursuing this policy. Here I want to mention, in particular, China International Import Expo or CIIE. CIIE is a major step taken by China to open its market with the world and share its development opportunities with the world. The CIIE has been held uninterrupted for 5 years. Even during the pandemic, it was still held as scheduled. Last year, there were over 2,800 enterprises from 127 countries and regions attending the Expo. And the total exhibition space was over 350,000 square meters. The story of CIIE proves that an open big Chinese market promises big opportunities for companies from around the world.
This year we will further expand opening up in alignment with high-standard international trade rules. China will only open itself wider to the world. We will provide a better environment and services for all. An open China welcomes investors from all over the world.
On China-US relations and the "decoupling theory"
As for the specific issues concerning China-US relations, our foreign minister Qin Gang already elaborated on our position during the press conference a couple of days ago, so I will not go into details. [Full-text transcript of the press conference of China's new Foreign Minister Qin Gang during the "Two Sessions"] But I want to stress that it is important for us to translate the important consensus reached between President Xi Jinping and President Biden during the meeting last November into actual policies and concrete actions.
I know that in recent years, some in the United States have been trumpeting the idea of decoupling with China. Sometimes it could become quite a hot topic on the media, but I wonder how many people can truly benefit from this kind of hype.
According to Chinese statistics, last year, two-way trade between China and the United States totaled 760 billion U.S. dollars, which again set a new record in history. China and the United States are closely intertwined economically. We have both benefited from the other side's development.
For most part of last year, I was working in Shanghai, a city that houses 70,000 foreign companies, so I had a lot of opportunities to talk with the senior managers of multinational corporations including many American companies. They all told me that they were optimistic about the future of Shanghai and China. They all hope to see cooperation between all countries of the world. They all believe that cooperation is the sure path that will lead to win-win outcomes. All this demonstrates that China and the United States can and must cooperate. And there are a lot that the two countries can achieve by working together. Encirclement and suppression is in no one's interest.
On governing capacity and government building
We will take the new round of the state institutional reform as an opportunity to strengthen government building. We will further transform government functions, make the government work more efficient, and improve the conduct of the government.
Going forward, we will focus on four priorities.
First, we will promote the practice of research and studies. The CPC Central Committee has already made clear requirements on that and the State Council must take the lead in meeting these requirements.
I have worked in local governments for a long time. My experience is that when you sit in the office, you see lots of problems but when you reach out to the people, you see all kinds of solutions. After all, the brightest minds are among the people. We will encourage government officials at all levels to engage more with the local communities to know about what the people need and seek their opinions on the work of the government. They need to learn from the people take people as their teachers and help the people solve their actual problems. In particular, young people working in government ministries should reach out to the people, keep people's needs and interests close to their heart and be down-to-earth in their work. The second priority is to promote governance in accordance with law. The government must act within the confines of law, and all government conducts must be based on solid legal grounds. We will continue to promote the building of a law-based government. The public servants need to build up the capacity for applying the method and mentality of rule of law in solving real problems.
The third priority is to explore innovative ways in performing our duties. Government departments at all levels and civil servants must be conscious of their duty to serve the people and promote the country's development. In particular, when dealing with matters concerning administration, regulation, and approval, the relevant government departments should not just slam on the brake, but also hit on the accelerator. They should not just set up roadblocks, but also need to put up road signs. They should make more value judgments and think about whether something shall be done instead of just making a purely technical judgment and decide whether something can be done. We are firmly opposed to pointless formality and bureaucratism in all forms and we must be creative in performing our duties.
The fourth priority is to uphold the principle of integrity. We will apply stringent standards and requirements in building a clean government and will take a zero-tolerance attitude to all acts of corruption. All government officials must subject themselves to supervision and truly meet the requirements of being loyal, upright and responsible.
In case you’ve missed it, GRR has published a piece explaining China’s State Council reconstructing on March 7, a piece about Xi Jinping's first speech in this year’s “Two Sessions” on March 6 and a piece including the highlights of Li Keqiang's government work report on March 5. These articles are currently free to read, but there is no guarantee that you will not be required to pay to access them in the near future.