At the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s government has unveiled it is aiming for a GDP growth rate of more than 6% for the year ahead despite China’s Finance Ministry describing the country’s fiscal situation as “quite grave”. In fact the government target is to reduce the deficit from above 3,6% in 2020 to 3,2% in 2021, also because its fiscal stimulus recovery package against the pandemic effects is more limited compared to other countries.
Premier Li Keqiang’s announcement, which is part of his annual work report at the NPC, came just a year after China abandoned setting a target rate amid the chaos of coronavirus. Some economists had hoped the global pandemic would act as a circuit breaker to end the debt-fuelled spending required to meet China’s high annual targets while others expressed surprise at the high figure, which is similar to China’s growth rates prior to the global downturn.
Away from the economy, China’s government also set a target of a 6,8% in annual defence spending, which has been surging for the past two decades.
Without specifying details, Mr Li also hinted at further restrictions to come in Hong Kong. Chinese government, through its national security office, has already jailed most of the city’s leading pro-democracy activists or forced them into exile. China’s government will also reportedly deny the voters of Hong Kong the chance to cast ballots in city elections for a second straight year, as it implements what it describes as “reforms”.
According to the South China Morning Post, the Legislative Council elections that were delayed in 2020 by a year due to the pandemic. now will not happen until 2022, as Beijing plans to expand the number of seats in a bid to allow “patriots only” to hold office.
The move comes less than 12 months after China’s government imposed a national security law on Hong Kong that criminalised certain forms of dissent, including speech critical of the law itself.
But in his speech, Mr Li suggested that China would go further, and “resolutely guard against and deter” interference by external forces in Hong Kong’s affairs.
An official later confirmed that a committee primarily made up of Beijing loyalists will now approve or deny anyone in the city who seeks to run for office.