New Premier Li Qiang and Foreign Minister Qin Gang meet the press

New Premier Li Qiang and Foreign Minister Qin Gang meet the press

Following the closing ceremony of the National People's Congress, newly-appointed Premier Li Qiang met journalists from home and abroad at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 13 in the first in-person press conference in three years. Before becoming Premier, Li Qiang was Communist Party Secretary of Shanghai and Jiangsu province, as well as Governor of Zhejiang province.

Asked about the priorities of his government, Li referred to the report delivered by President Xi Jinping at the Communist Party Congress in October, saying the government’s mission is to implement the policies laid out in the report. Li Qiang said the first mission of the government is to improve the well-being and livelihood of the people. “People don’t monitor GDP every day, but they do care about the things close to them, such as housing, employment, social services, income and health services,” he said. China will shift focus to high-quality development and improve science and technology. Development will be more people-focused and will aim to improve people’s lives in areas from housing and employment to medical services. Achieving China’s target of around 5% GDP growth this year will not be an easy task. Prospects for the global economy are not optimistic, and the Premier warned of uncertain and unpredictable factors, and sometimes unexpected incidents. In answering his first question, Li referred to President Xi Jinping several times as well as many of his principles, such as the “two centennial goals” and “new development philosophy”.

Li stressed the importance of economic stability this year. He said a series of policy “combinations” will be introduced for the macro-economy to stimulate demand and investment, as well as on reform and innovation, and to prevent risks. China’s economic development has many advantages, such as its massive market, but institutional strength is key, Li said, referring to the Communist Party's institutions. He conceded that the economy faced challenges, but also pointed to signs of improvement, saying the economy will “break through the wind and waves and sail towards a brighter future”.

Li said he worked for a long time in regions with thriving private economies so he is well informed about the problems the sector faces. He says “inappropriate” discussion and rumors about private entrepreneurs have discouraged them, and that policies on the private sector have always been consistent. Asked about the fall in China’s population last year, the Premier pointed to the quality and amount of talent in the country. China has a highly educated population and therefore the demographic dividend has not disappeared. China’s “talent dividend” is in the making, and the 11.58 million graduates looking for work will bring vitality and energy to the economy, he said.

Asked whether China’s Covid-19 measures were necessary, Li said the strategy was well conceived and gave the country time to develop vaccines and drugs. “For over three years, under the leadership of the Communist Party, the Chinese people have united in fighting Covid-19, and now we have achieved a major and decisive victory against the disease,” he said, while avoiding to use the term “zero-Covid”. He added that China achieved a “smooth transition” in its Covid-19 response in less than two months, which he called a “remarkable achievement”.

On Taiwan, Li said Chinese on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are members of the same family, and the government will promote cross-Strait economic and cultural cooperation on the basis of the one-China principle and “1992 consensus”. More Taiwanese businesspeople will be encouraged to come to the mainland, and the government is aiming for normal exchanges between the two sides of the Strait through joint efforts.

Premier Li called on Chinese farmers to grow more grain “so as to make sure the rice bowl of the 1.4 billion Chinese people will always be firmly held in our own hands”. Li said China’s reform and opening-up enabled the country to develop and has had an impact on the whole world. Most foreign businesses are optimistic about the prospects in China and it is “still the highland for foreign investment”. “Regardless of external changes, we will unswervingly pursue our opening-up policy,” Li added. “China will only open itself wider to the world and we will provide better services to all. An open China in the process of constant development welcomes investment from all over the world.” Li mentioned his interactions with foreign investors when he was Shanghai Party Secretary and with private entrepreneurs when he was a top official in the provinces of Zhejiang and Jiangsu. He said that in Shanghai many foreign companies told him that they were optimistic about the city and China.

On U.S.-China relations, Li said that trade between China and the United States reached a record high last year and the economic relationship between the two countries is dependent and mutually beneficial. The idea of “decoupling” is just hype, he said, adding that there are many areas in which China and the U.S. can work together. “Suppression does no good to either side,” he said. Li Qiang ended the press conference with a commitment to implement the policies decided by the Communist Party’s Central Committee.

This summary of Premier Li Qiang's press conference is based on the live blog of the South China Morning Post.

During a press conference on the sidelines of the two sessions, Foreign Minister Qin Gang said that the United States defining its relations with China as “strategic competition” is “a reckless gamble with the stakes being the fundamental interests of the two peoples and even the future of humanity”, and “competition” will get the two countries locked in a zero-sum game. This so-called competition aims to contain and suppress China in all respects, and “that is not fair competition but malicious confrontation”. “If the United States does not hit the brake but continues to speed down the wrong path, no amount of guardrails can prevent derailing and there will surely be conflict and confrontation,” he added. The comments suggest that exchanges between senior Chinese and U.S. officials are unlikely to take place soon, according to diplomatic analysts.

Regarding the Ukraine crisis, Qin said it is a tragedy that could have been avoided. There seems to be “an invisible hand” pushing for the escalation of the conflict and using the crisis to serve a certain geopolitical agenda, he added. Qin reiterated China’s position on the Ukraine crisis, saying that China chooses peace over war, dialogue over sanctions, and cooling down the situation over fueling the fire.

Minister Qin Gang adopted a conciliatory tone towards Europe. “China all along sees the European Union as a comprehensive strategic partner and supports European integration. We hope that Europe, with the painful Ukraine crisis in mind, will truly achieve strategic autonomy and long-term peace and stability,” he said.

Achieving modernization for a country of more than 1.4 billion people will be an unprecedented feat in human history, one of profound global significance in itself and offering solutions to many challenges facing human development, Foreign Minister Qin said. He added that it disproves the myth that modernization is Westernization, and provides an important source of inspiration for the world, especially developing countries. He said that those who coined the term “wolf warrior” diplomacy are either ignorant of China and its diplomacy, or driven by a hidden agenda disregarding the facts. “In China’s diplomacy, there is no shortage of goodwill and kindness. But if faced with jackals or wolves, Chinese diplomats would have no choice but to confront them head-on and protect our motherland,” Qin said. He added that China-Russia ties are no threat to any country. The bilateral relationship is based on non-alliance and non-confrontation, and is not targeted at any third party, he said, adding that those “inclined to view the ties through the lens of Cold War alliances see nothing but their own image”.