SMOOTH INTERACTION: Premier Li Keqiang greets journalists before a press conference in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 13 (CNSPHOTO)
At a press conference on March 13, the closing day of the National People's Congress (NPC), Chinese Premier Li Keqiang answered a range of questions from Chinese and foreign journalists, including those concerning this year's full sessions of the NPC and the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, which are the country's top legislature and top advisory body respectively. The following are edited excerpts:
Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370
The Chinese Government is deeply concerned about the safety of the passengers. There are eight Chinese vessels at the suspected crash site, and 10 Chinese satellites have joined the search. China has asked parties concerned to improve their coordination. We will enhance international cooperation to ensure the safety of Chinese citizens abroad.
Financial and Debt Risks
There is concern about downward pressure in the Chinese economy. Last year, China achieved its GDP growth target. The comprehensive public audit last year showed that government debt is controllable, and below the internationally recognized warning line. The government has tightened regulation and implemented Basel III accord on capital and liquidity standards. Defaults may not be avoidable in some cases but the government will work to reduce systemic risks.
The Party and government are firm in fighting corruption with zero tolerance. China has rule of the law. All corrupt officials will be dealt with equally, regardless of their position. A list of powers will be released to the public. There will be a full audit in key areas like land transfers and mining rights so that corrupt officials have nowhere to hide.
China is determined to follow a path of peaceful development, and uphold its sovereignty and territorial integrity. As long as our neighbors can accept differences and respect each other's interest then there will not be clashes.
The biggest challenge has been downward pressure. There was a money squeeze last year in the inter-bank lending rate and some key indicators showed slumps. Some said that there would be a hard landing in the Chinese economy. Institutional solutions were necessary, including macro-control, restructuring and allowing the market to play a greater role. We met our targets. This year there are greater challenges—maintaining growth and employment, controlling inflation and environmental protection. We need to be prepared. The Chinese economy has great potential and we have the ability to maintain full control this year.
Last year, 416 administrative approval items were cancelled or delegated to local governments. The reform has made the market more dynamic. Newly registered companies grew by 27.6 percent last year and private companies grew 30 percent—the highest figure in 10 years. Streamlining administration is the key to energizing the market. Letting go doesn't mean the government will not be in control. It means making improvements, punishing IPR infringements and polluting industries harshly and increasing market oversight. The government is determined to see the reform through and manage the government-market relationship.
I have read negative reports about the Chinese economy. Last year we met our growth targets without stimulating the economy, so why can't we do it again this year? We are most concerned about employment, people's livelihoods and growth in household incomes. I have visited homes where none of the family members have a job. We need appropriate GDP growth to safeguard employment. We are flexible. We are looking for GDP growth that can benefit the people and contribute to environmental protection.
Hong Kong & Macao
Hong Kong has continued to prosper in difficult economic conditions. It has maintained its competitive edge. It has also made an important contribution to China's reform and opening up. The Chinese Government's policy toward Hong Kong and Macao is consistent and clear-cut. The government will continue to support Hong Kong as a financial, shipping and trading center.
Last year [Chinese] President Xi Jinping met with [U.S.] President Barack Obama in the United States and reached a consensus on building peaceful and mutually beneficial cooperation. There are differences [between us] but these are necessary pains in growing cooperation. As long as differences are managed, then relations can be improved. There are more common interests between China and the United States than differences. Wise people seek common ground and the foolish focus on differences.
Breakthrough in Reform
China is deepening reform in all areas. Out of the 40 executive meetings of the State Council held in 2013, 30 have been related to reform. Our focus is to increase the vitality of the market and the creativity of society and to allow the people to benefit. Thirty years ago I was a village head. The people just wanted to get enough to eat. The land was later contracted to the villagers and they could decide how to use it. We solved the problem of subsistence. Our reform will come about as the result of a process. This year we will continue to delegate power and allow the market to play its full role. We will continue financial and fiscal reforms. For example, there will be new tax reduction measures this year for small and micro enterprises, and a focus on insurance for seniors. We want the people to benefit. Some government departments will lose power and companies will face pressure, but we will carry out our reform without hesitation.
Cross-Taiwan Straits Ties
The people on both sides of the Taiwan Straits are one family. Last year, the media on both sides chose the Chinese character for "progress" for 2013. This is representative of the trend of development. People-to-people exchanges and trade between the two sides are important components. Eight million visits were made between the two sides last year—a new high. We are making progress within the economic framework.
Real Estate Regulation
The government's goal is to make sure everybody has housing. We will take diverse measures according to the situations in different cities. We will renovate at least 4.7 million housing units to help meet the people's basic housing needs. Even one small action is more important than a thousand words. We will take a differential approach to regulating the housing market. There will be a long-term mechanism for the real estate market.
War Against Smog
Control of PM2.5 (fine particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) has become a major issue for the people. We are not declaring war against nature. We will upgrade our growth model. We monitor PM2.5 in 161 cities. The government is taking more responsibility and has set a target to reduce energy intensity by 3.9 percent this year. We will hold businesses that do not take responsibility accountable. We need to continue to actively fight smog. It is a long-term endeavor.
Promoting the rights and interests of Chinese companies overseas is part of my job. As I said to European leaders, Chinese companies can deliver high-speed rail equipment very quickly. We are upgrading our industries and making them more competitive. We can't just export toys. We buy a lot of parts from abroad. There are benefits for both sides. My message for Chinese companies is: We have given our words about the quality of Chinese equipment. I hope that you will not prove us wrong. If Europe and China respect each other, then we can solve trade disputes. We don't want to lose out on Europe because of individual cases, as it is our largest trading partner. We are currently carrying out Europe-China investment negotiations to create the conditions to increase mutual investment.
We have three major tasks: meet basic needs, provide a safety net and increase social equality. We want to improve the safety net covering areas including education, housing and medical care. We will expand the coverage of various programs. This year we will increase the standard for security for senior citizens, bring it in line with the market, and unify the medical and senior citizen insurance systems in urban and rural areas. China is still a developing country. The social security standards are still low. Many people need aid in times of disaster. In these cases, basic welfare is not enough. The government should always prioritize the needs of the people.
We will get rid of the people's worries regarding employment and starting businesses, and create a level playing field. We are increasing educational equality and giving more people in poor areas access to high-quality education. We will improve education in rural areas, and make sure that everybody has an equal chance to develop themselves.
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