China’s premier says economic reform akin to ‘cutting one’s own flesh’

Government considering changes to one child policy

Chinese president Xi Jinping  and premier Li Keqiang  press buttons to vote during the closing ceremony of China’s National People’s Congress  at the Great Hall of the People  in Beijing. Photograph:  Feng Li/Getty Images

Chinese president Xi Jinping and premier Li Keqiang press buttons to vote during the closing ceremony of China’s National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Photograph: Feng Li/Getty Images

 

During the only news conference the Communist Party leadership gives on a regular basis, premier Li Keqiang used a graphic description for China’s efforts to reform the economy, saying it was “not nail-clipping . . .this is like taking a knife to one’s own flesh”.

The premier’s news conference marks the end of the National People’s Congress, which this year was dominated by testaments to President Xi Jinping’s “Four Comprehensives” – “comprehensively building a moderately prosperous society, deepening reform, advancing the rule of law and strictly governing the party”.

Rule of law and its observation was the central plank of this year’s NPC.

In his answers to questions yesterday, most of them carefully scripted but some apparently unprepared, Mr Li admitted that China was falling short of its people’s expectations in fighting pollution, said China had scope to boost its economy having avoided using strong, short-term stimulus in recent years, and said the Beijing government was considering further changes to the one child policy.

“The progress we have made still falls short of the expectations of our people … we need to make the cost for doing so too high to bear,” he told journalists in the Great Hall of the People.

In a surprising question, he was asked if the two Chinese oil giants, Sinopec and PetroChina, were obstructing efforts to fight pollution, which is fast emerging as a political issue fro the government.

“All businesses involved in illegal production and emission, no matter what kind of business they are, will be brought to justice and held accountable,” he replied.

The government has set an economic growth target of 7 per cent this year, its lowest in 11 years, and the slowest rate of expansion in a quarter of a century if it is met.

New normal

Mr Li

Changes in the population control policy which have restricted couples to one child, such as allowing children of only children have more than one, in most cases have not led to the expected baby boom.

Fearful of an ageing population, the government has been said to be reviewing ways of adjusting the policy, first introduced in the late 1970s to rein in the burgeoning population.

Statistics showed that China had registered some 16.9 million new births in 2014, 470,000 more than the previous year, and another million are expected this year because of the easing of the policy, but this is less than was hoped for.

He also said that Japan had an opportunity to improve “difficult” relations with China by using this year’s 70th anniversary of the end of the second World War II to face up to its historical responsibilities for the conflict.