China expands defense budget, sets modest growth target

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As the National People’s Congress opened this year’s session, China set an economic target of “around 5%” — one of the lowest in decades — and announced a 7.2% increase in its defense budget.

China kicked off the annual session of its parliament on Sunday, with the economy being the overarching theme.

Outgoing Premier Li Keqiang, the top economic official, set a modest target for economic growth of “around 5%” for the year.

China’s economic growth fell to 3% last year, the second-weakest level since at least the 1970s.

“We should give priority to the recovery and expansion of consumption,” Li said in a speech to the National People’s Congress (NPC) session, which will run through March 13.

Beijing is hoping for an economic rebound by encouraging consumers to spend more since coronavirus restrictions have been lifted.

Li stressed the need for economic viability to create more urban jobs and warned that risks remain in the real estate sector.

Military budget increase in face of ‘escalating’ threats

China also announced a 7.2% increase in its defense budget for the coming year, up slightly from last year’s 7.1% rate of increase.

Li told the NPC delegates that “external attempts to suppress and contain China is escalating.”

China is the world’s second-largest defense spender. Its planned budgets for the year put defense spending at 1.55 trillion yuan ($225 billion, €211 billion).

Pledging Taiwan’s ‘peaceful reunification’

On Taiwan, Li said Beijing should advance the process of “peaceful reunification” while taking steps to oppose Taiwan’s independence.

“As we Chinese on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are one family bound by blood, we should advance economic and cultural exchanges and cooperation across the Taiwan Strait and improve the systems and policies that contribute to the wellbeing of our Taiwan compatriots,” Li said.

Nearly 3,000 delegates were attending the NPC session

NPC meeting to tighten Xi’s grip on power

The meeting of 2,977 members of the NPC is the year’s highest-profile event, but its work is limited to endorsing decisions made by the ruling Communist Party.

As a result, there are no debates and all documents and decisions are expected to receive unanimous support.

This year’s gathering also comes at the start of China’s latest five-year political cycle, as an addendum to the ruling Communist Party’s 20th annual congress in October. There, President Xi Jinping secured a historic third term and cemented his iron grip on power.

In the coming days, the NPC will see Xi renamed head of state, the replacement of Li Keqiang as premier, and the appointment of other top members of the State Council, China’s Cabinet.


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