In a marathon speech lasting almost two hours, Premier Li Keqiang touted China's accomplishments in the past five years, while outlining the government's priorities - and red lines - in the next five. Here are some key takeaways:
1 XI'S STRONGER GRIP ON POWER
The proposed abolition of term limits for the presidency was not raised in the work report, but Chinese President Xi Jinping’s name came up no fewer than 13 times – five times more than last year.
After the Communist Party gave Mr Xi, the party general secretary, the title of “core” leader in 2016, the government’s work report last year referred to him as not only “Chairman Xi”, but also “Comrade Xi at the core of party leadership”.
This year, another term made it into the report – “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era in the fundamental law”. It refers to Mr Xi’s political theory, which was enshrined in the party charter at last October’s 19th Party Congress. China’s two previous presidents, Mr Jiang Zemin and Mr Hu Jintao, had their political theories added to the party’s constitution only after stepping down.
2 WORLD'S NO. 2 ECONOMY TO OPEN DOORS WIDER
Mr Li vowed to open up more sectors to foreign investors while “resolutely” safeguarding China’s rights and interests, amid the global winds of protectionism.
He said "protectionism is mounting and geopolitical risks are on the ascent”, without mentioningUnited States President Donald Trump’s plans to impose steep global duties on metals to protect US producers. “We will open our market wider to promote industry upgrading and more balanced development of trade, and to provide Chinese consumers with a broader range of choices,” he added.
3 FROM IT POWERHOUSE TO DIGITAL JUGGERNAUT
Warm applause rang out as Mr Li announced that rates for mobile Internet services would be reduced by at least 30 per cent.
“China will do more to speed up broadband and bring down Internet rates, achieve high-speed broadband access in both urban and rural areas, and make free Internet access available in more public places,” he said, peppering his report with the buzzword chuang xin, meaning “innovation”.
Mr Li vowed to modify or abolish outdated rules that “sap the inspiration for innovation” as the world’s second-largest economy races to become the world leader in fintech, biotech, artificial intelligence and next-generation 5G networks.
4 READING THE TEA LEAVES
At major political meetings, everything from seating arrangements to body language is scrutinised for clues about China’s opaque elite politics.
Observers took note, for instance, of how former anti-graft tsar Wang Qishan, 69, who relinquished all his key positions at the 19th Party Congress, was offered a seat in the same row as members of the elite Politburo Standing Committee at the opening of the National People’s Congress (NPC) yesterday. Widely seen as China’s second-most powerful man, he is tipped to be made vice-president at this NPC session.
5 TWIN HEADACHES OF HONG KONG AND TAIWAN
What was not mentioned is often as significant as what was.
A phrase seen as a guarantee of a degree of autonomy for Hong Kong was omitted – there was no mention of gang ren zhi gang ( “Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong”).
Hong Kong has become a hot spot for Beijing as activists and opposition politicians step up efforts to resist what they see as an encroachment of freedoms by Beijing.
On Taiwan, Mr Li said Beijing would promote the peaceful growth of ties across the Taiwan Strait and “advance China’s peaceful reunification”, but warned of zero tolerance for “any separatist schemes”.
Tay Hwee Peng