Chinese Dream gets a new team


The one and a half hour long news conference of Premier Li Qiang on the concluding day of the annual session of the 14th National People's Congress, China's top legislature, on Monday was both revealing and reassuring for China watchers.

Revealing because President Xi Jinping continues to be at the helm and the world is familiar with his style and substance of leadership.

Since the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in October, however, the world had been speculating about the new leadership team of China's State bodies and who would lead the State Council, China's Cabinet, for the next five years or more. Monday's news conference was the first time the world saw China's new premier address such a large gathering of domestic and international journalists. Li faced a whole range of probing questions with the grit and grace needed to lead the State Council at this important juncture as China could become the world's largest economy during his tenure.

The news conference was also reassuring because Li appeared at peace with his new position — confident about showing his pragmatic approach — as he said that his team faces "many new challenges" and that the growth rate of 5 percent will not be an easy task to achieve.

He, however, said that people "don't fix their sights every day" on growth rates but on "specific issues close to them" which include their concerns about unemployment, education, health and housing. Saying that the higher number of college graduates this year will put extra pressure on the job market, he asserted that "developing the economy is the fundamental solution for creating jobs".

Li was upfront about recent discussions on China's private entrepreneurs, promising to create a better environment for the private sector while reiterating China's commitment to promote the public sector and guide the development of the non-public sector. This reflected his understanding that the bulk of foreign direct investment comes from and through the private sector.

The challenges of China's economic development have to be understood against the backdrop of its unprecedented average growth rate of 9-plus percent for the past four decades. It is no longer possible to achieve such a high growth rate for an $18 trillion economy. Also, like the rest of the world, China is bracing to deal with not only the after-effects of the pandemic-induced disruption in, and deceleration of, the supply and industry chains, but also the impending inflationary and recessionary pressures.

No doubt one doesn't expect any fundamental changes from China's new leadership team as the principle of upholding the leadership of the Party with Xi as the core was once again unanimously endorsed by the two sessions. As such, China's new leaders are expected to further accelerate their work to achieve the Party's clearly defined goals with their given trajectories and timelines.

It is important to note the conformity and conviction of the new premier toward those goals. It is also important to note his professionalism and hands-on approach as he spoke extempore and gave detailed and specific replies without any notes or aides supporting him, albeit he was accompanied by the vice-premiers. Both his language and body language will now be the subject of dissection by China watchers worldwide.

Premier Li took a range of questions, from aging population, unemployment, State — versus market-driven development to Beijing's anti-pandemic policy, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and Sino-US relations. The news conference also saw him echo President Xi's speech at the closing ceremony of the 14th NPC and caution the US that "encirclement and suppression are not advantageous for anyone". Likewise, Li underlined that the Chinese mainland and Taiwan are "one and the same family" and share an "unbreakable bond of blood and friendship".

But conforming to the Party's goals and timelines is one thing and delivering on them another. To realize the Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation, therefore, the new leadership team members must hit the ground running, without waiting to familiarize with their new positions.

China's economic miracle in the past might be of little help in deciding how things should be done in the future. As one example of this new momentum, the revision to the Legislation Law, approved by the NPC, empowers its Standing Committee to prioritize efficiency so that it could enact laws after just one review in case of emergencies. The two sessions also approved a series of reforms in the State Council and overhauled a whole range of financial, banking, intellectual property and people's petition related regulatory mechanisms.

Given the grand goals and timelines for China's new leaders, it will be an uphill task for new leaders.

The author is a professor of international relations at Jawaharlal Nehru University (New Delhi), and currently a visiting professor at the University of British Columbia (Vancouver).

The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.