HONG KONG — China's premier Li Keqiang says his country will need guts and wisdom to handle the broad range of economic, political and diplomatic challenges it is grappling with this year. In a wide-ranging speech, the premier also suggested there is “friction” with the United States and the two countries should respect each other’s core interests.
Premier Li Keqiang spoke at the closing of the National People's Congress, in what was his first news conference after China unveiled an ambitious agenda for economic reform last year.
China’s leaders are trying to move the economy away from a three decade old mode of development focused on state-backed enterprises. The model has created tremendous wealth, but also led to corruption and inefficiencies. It has also made things more difficult for private enterprises.
On Thursday, Li said the government is making progress in encouraging new private businesses by streamlining hundreds of transactions that previously needed government approval.
He says China will push forward the simplification of administration and the decentralization of government power and will allow market forces to take effect.
Much of China's economic growth in the past 30 years has relied on large scale investments by state owned enterprises and local administrations, often bankrolled by government-controlled banks.
Asked about the liability of such debt, Li said that after auditing the situation last year, the government believes the risk is under control.
Li said that in 2014 China's biggest challenge will be how to maintain growth, keep people in China employed and inflation under check.
Li says the reason why the official goal for GDP growth is set at 7.5 percent is that China is considering the need to keep stability in the labor market, to benefit people's livelihood and to increase the income of urban and rural residents.
China has been experiencing an economic downturn which economists say is caused by both international and domestic factors.
The kinds of reforms that the new administration is pushing for, including measures to cut down pollution and reduce inefficiency might further impact economic growth in 2014.
On Thursday, answering a question about smog, which has become the most visible mark of the economy's toll on the environment, Li said China is committed to turning a new page.
He says the government is going to declare a war against China's inefficient and unsustainable model of growth and way of life.
Li spoke about relations with the United States, emphasizing their growing ties while acknowledging there is “friction” in their otherwise cooperative relationship.
He did not discuss tensions over cyber security, human rights or territorial disputes with China’s neighbors, instead focusing on economic ties that he estimated are worth $100 million in every hour’s work.
Li Keqiang also spoke about the government's anti corruption drive, which he says will intensify and target the wasteful ways government agencies use public money.
Despite saying China will prosecute corruption at all levels of power, Li did not mention specific high level officials, including former security tsar Zhou Yongkang which many believe to be currently under house arrest.
In recent weeks, Zhou's business and personal connections with people currently under investigation for abuse of power has been widely reported on state media. If officially indicted, Zhou will be the most senior target in Xi Jinping's anti corruption push.