A quick guide to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s annual work report

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang delivering his report during the opening session of the National People's Congress in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 5, 2017.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang delivering his report during the opening session of the National People's Congress in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 5, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

China opened its annual National People’s Congress (NPC) meeting on Sunday (March 5). One of the most closely studied documents is the government work report, which offers the outside world a sense of Beijing's economic, foreign and defence priorities.

This year, Premier Li Keqiang took 90 minutes to deliver the 20,000 word annual report.

Here's a five-minute guide to the key points. 

DEFENCE


The Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning, with other Chinese navy ships, conducting military drills in the South China Sea on Jan 2, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

China on Sunday pledged more support to its military including strengthening maritime and air defences amid efforts to safeguard sovereignty, but in a highly unusual move, did not provide spending figures for 2017.

Parliament spokesman Fu Ying said on Saturday that defence spending for this year would rise about 7 per cent, accounting for around 1.3 per cent of gross domestic product – the same level as the last few years. 

Last year, with the economy slowing, the defence budget recorded its lowest increase in six years of 7.6 per cent, the first single-digit rise since 2010, following a nearly unbroken two-decade run of double-digit increases. 

The defence budget figure for last year, 954.35 billion yuan (S$195 billion), likely understates its investment, according to diplomats.

A 7-per-cent rise for this year based on last year's budget would bring the figure to 1.02 trillion yuan, still only a quarter or so of the US defence budget.

ECONOMY


Workers on a production line at the Huajian shoe factory in Dongguan, Guangdong province. PHOTO: AFP

China aims to expand its economy by around 6.5 per cent in 2017 as it continues to implement a proactive fiscal policy and maintain a prudent monetary policy.

Last year, China targeted growth of 6.5 to 7 per cent and ultimately achieved 6.7 per cent, the slowest pace in 26 years. 

A slower growth, according to experts, will give China more room to push through reforms to deal with a build-up in debt.

The finance ministry pledged in its work report released on Sunday to clamp down on local government debt risk. China’s debt-to-GDP ratio rose to 277 per cent at the end of 2016 from 254 per cent the previous year, according to a recent UBS note.

China also set a budget deficit target of 3 per cent of gross domestic product for 2017, the finance ministry said in its work plan, in line with the target set a year earlier.

Mr Li said China will also push forward with reform of state-owned firms and assets this year. 

On job creation, the government aims to create more than 11 million new urban jobs this year, one million more than last year. 

ENVIRONMENT


Buildings are seen in heavy smog in Jinan, Shandong province, on Dec 20, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

Air pollution is a hot-button issue this year after swathes of northern China were blanketed under toxic smog since end of last year (2016). 

Premier Li pledged on Sunday to make the skies blue again while listing a series of measures to be taken this year to help clear the air. They include upgrading coal-fired power plants to make them less polluting, reducing coal-fired heating, and implementing "round-the-clock monitoring" of industrial pollution. 

China will "basically" scrap all high-emission vehicles and pursue a 3-per-cent cut in emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide – key components of the toxic smog. 

HOUSING 


Apartment blocks and villas are pictured in the Wuqing district of Tianjin, China, on Sept 10, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

China is looking to keep the property market stable this year after prices of new homes soared 12.4 per cent last year, the most since 2011. Local authorities in more than 20 cities have introduced curbs to cool the market since October 2016.

"We need to be clear that housing is for people to live in," Premier Li Keqiang said on Sunday.

He pledged to establish long-term mechanisms for promoting the steady and sound development of the sector, and take more category-based and targeted measures to regulate the market. 

The government has no plans to implement a nationwide property tax this year, Ms Fu Ying, spokesman for China's parliament, said on Saturday. 

China has for years considered an annual property tax, which could deter speculation in real estate, though little progress has been made due to resistance from stakeholders, such as local governments who heavily rely on land sales for revenue. 

Mr Li also said on Sunday that China would take steps to cut excessive real estate inventory in the third- and fourth-tier cities, adding that the government supports migrant workers in buying urban homes. 

TAIWAN, HONG KONG 


A pro-democracy activist holding a yellow umbrella with a slogan supporting the independence of the judiciary, outside the High Court in Hong Kong on March 1, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

China on Sunday issued stern warnings to separatist forces in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

"We will never tolerate any activity, in any form or name, which attempts to separate Taiwan from the motherland," Mr Li said.

At the same time, he extended an olive branch across the Taiwan Strait, saying China would continue efforts to increase linkages with the self-ruled island. "People on both sides of the Taiwan Strait should keep in mind the greater interests of the nation", and work towards the "reunification of China".

On the autonomous  city of Hong Kong, Mr Li said the notion of Hong Kong independence will lead to nowhere. 

Hong Kong has been part of China since 1997 but enjoys a high degree of autonomy under a principle of  "one country, two systems".

But there have been growing calls in recent years for self determination and even independence  for the city. 

Sources: Reuters, Agence France-Presse