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China's Political Season
Tasks and goals for the 2016 Lianghui
By Jon Taylor | Web Excusive

The forth session of the 12th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) opens on March 3 (WANG XIANG)

The calendar has turned to March, which means that it is time for China's Lianghui ("two sessions")--the annual political season in which the plenary sessions of both the National People's Congress (NPC) and the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) convene for the purpose of reviewing the performance of the government over the past year, discuss major economic targets, develop policy ideas, and affirm legislative proposals.

Why should we care about this year's Lianghui? Simply put, because of the word in Mandarin shisanwu--the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20).

China's 13th Five-Year Plan will guide the country's social, political, and economic development through the second half of this decade and influence China well beyond its conclusion in 2020. For those unfamiliar with the basics of a Five-Year Plan, it is a national strategy that sets out policies for social development and economic growth, identifies promising areas for investment, and indicates where government resources will be concentrated. It is intended to be both a policy guide at all levels of government as well as a mechanism to influence state-owned and even private enterprises.

Premier Li Keqiang's annual Government Work Report at the NPC session outlined 2015 achievements and areas of focus for 2016. China is facing slower economic growth compared to previous years and facing difficulties as it attempts to shift its development to a more sustainable--and stable--model. Premier Li noted that will require structural reforms, the need for better environmental protection and the recognition that a sluggish global economy has impacted the Chinese economy. Much of the work report detailed China's economy and how much it will need to grow over the next year.

Premier Li also expounded upon China's strengths, including the economic potential to be realized through the new-type urbanization plan first proposed in 2014, an emphasis on developing the service sector, employment policy, and research and innovation policy.

In the work report, Premier Li noted that China's GDP growth in 2016 has been set between 6.5 percent and 7 percent. This is the first time since 1995 that China's growth target is in a range rather than one single number. Utilizing a growth target range recognizes the volatility of both China and the world's economy. But that volatility still led to an economy that grew by 6.9 percent in 2015--the lowest growth in nearly 25 years, but still among the highest growth rates in the world. According to the work report, average annual growth of at least 6.5 percent will be maintained in the next five years in order to achieve the targets of doubling GDP and per-capita income by 2020 from the 2010 levels and achieving President Xi Jinping's goal to "comprehensively build a moderately prosperous society in all respects." The work report also states that by 2020, the contribution from scientific and technological advances should account for 60 percent of China's GDP growth.

The draft 13th Five-Year Plan unveiled at the opening of the NPC session pledges to pick up the slack left by falling productivity and weak property investment, accelerate the restructuring of state-owned enterprises (SOEs), and continue pushing the economy from decades-old dependence on investment and manufacturing toward a consumption and service-based economy.

It should also be noted that more than 90 percent of what was in the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15) has been achieved. There is no reason to think that China can't meet or beat that level of achievement in the 13th Five-Year Plan.

The NPC session not only considers the 13th Five-Year Plan, but also deliberates over a host of issues that will be considered for legislative action, government action, or even inclusion in the five-year plan.

Premier Li's work report to the NPC set the stage for discussions on policy areas ranging from economic growth to environmental protection to Internet Plus. Finally, I want to suggest that Premier Li's press conference on the final day of the Lianghui (March 16) should be closely watched. The premier tends to use the press conference as a venue to "fill-in-the-blanks" on activities in the two chambers by expanding upon policy and legislative initiatives that were considered and/or ratified by the Lianghui. Often the press conference gives hints as to future policy or legislative proposals.

The author is professor chair of political science at the University of St. Thomas, Houston

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