China's 19th party congress

Xi's pledge: Govt will do more to improve people's lives

Efforts to be stepped up in areas like housing, poverty, education, social security and jobs

People walk past television screens showing China's President Xi Jinping as he delivers a speech during the opening of the 19th Communist Party Congress. PHOTO: AFP

Chinese President Xi Jinping yesterday laid out a long-term growth road map for China to become a "great modern socialist country" by 2050, which some say could be seen as a move away from tying growth to specific numerical targets.

Mr Xi introduced a two-stage development plan that states broad goals for China to achieve by 2035 and 2050.

By 2035, China will become a "global leader in innovation", narrow income gaps and have made "solid progress" towards prosperity for everyone, he said at the Chinese Communist Party's 19th national congress. By the middle of the 21st century, the country will become a "global leader in terms of composite national strength and international influence", he added.

Referring to the immediate future, Mr Xi said the period between now and 2020 will be "decisive in finishing the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects". A key feature of this target, as stated by the party in previous congresses, will be the doubling of people's incomes from the 2010 levels, and the complete eradication of extreme poverty.

In referring to these development goals, Mr Xi was quick to stress that the outcomes should earn the approval of the ordinary people and steadily improve their lives.

China has now entered a stage of "high-quality development" after decades of rapid double-digit growth, he said. But this is also fraught with imbalances and inadequacies. He promised to do more to alleviate poverty, improve education, create better-quality jobs and strengthen the social security system.

In acknowledging the problem of a housing bubble, Mr Xi warned: "We must not forget that housing is for living in, not for speculation", reiterating a phrase that the government first mentioned at the close of the Central Economic Work Conference last December. He pledged to step up efforts to ensure an adequate supply of housing, as well as to provide housing support through various channels.

Analysts say Mr Xi touched on all the key points related to the economy in areas like supply-side structural reforms, interest rate and exchange rate liberalisation, and the Belt and Road Initiative.

It shows his intention to continue with existing policies in cutting overcapacity in the economy, pushing for innovation and implementing fiscal reforms, they say.

"The speech reflects the current priorities of the Chinese government. It is now less worried about growth as it is definitely on track to achieving the target of doubling average income (from the 2010 levels) by 2020," said Standard Chartered economist Kelvin Lau, noting the absence of any mention of this target in the speech yesterday.

Analysts told The Straits Times that what stood out for them was Mr Xi's two-step plan for China's future development. "It is a very ambitious plan. China must have enough confidence to say that. It has to maintain a certain momentum in the growth trajectory from now to 2035 and eventually to 2050," said UOB senior economist Suan Teck Kin. "But it's encouraging because at least it has a target to achieve. From now, it is likely to focus its attention on building itself up in various areas to work towards that," he said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2017, with the headline Xi's pledge: Govt will do more to improve people's lives. Subscribe