China’s annual parliament kicks off with reform pledge as growth slows

Premier Li Keqiang also promises to tackle pollution

Chinese military delegates arrive at the Great Hall of the People before the opening session of the National People’s Congress on  in Beijing, China.  Photograph:  Feng Li/Getty Images

Chinese military delegates arrive at the Great Hall of the People before the opening session of the National People’s Congress on in Beijing, China. Photograph: Feng Li/Getty Images

 

China’s annual rubber-stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress, got under way on Thursday, with the country’s premier, Li Keqiang, pledging to keep the economy going under the “new normal” of lower growth.

Some 3,000 delegates gathered in the Great Hall of the People, which was draped in red flags and watched over by a red star in the centre of the ceiling and listened as Mr Li vowed to tackle graft and smog, and emphasised how reform was needed to get the economy back on track after more than 30 years of double-digit growth.

“The road to global economic recovery has been rough, with many ups and downs, and the performance of the major economies has been divergent. Downward pressure on the Chinese economy has continued to mount, and we have faced an array of interwoven challenges and difficulties,” said Mr Li.

In many ways the NPC is reminiscent of the cold war, but the amazing continuity serves as a reminder of how China’s Communist Party has become very powerful by adjusting Marxist-Leninist principles to suit its rule.

Creaking with age

China

‘Deep-seated problems’

Meanwhile, Mr Li’s point that China would become a “maritime power” was greeted by resounding applause. Aircraft carriers are among the hardware on the People’s Liberation Army’s shopping list after China announced its defence budget will increase by 10.1 per cent to 886.9 billion yuan (€127.79 billion) for 2015.

“While this is the slowest rate of growth we’ve seen announced for a number of years, the defence budget is still growing at a robust pace.

“In real terms, the budget is growing by around 9 per cent, meaning only Russia’s military budget will grow faster this year out of the top 20 defence spenders,” said Craig Caffrey, senior defence budget analyst at IHS Aerospace, Defence & Security. France, Britain and the US all spend considerably more on defence as a proportion of GDP.