China’s new premier woos business as Xi doubles down on security

Li Qiang says China welcomes investment and private enterprise despite crackdowns.

Chinese Premier Li Qiang has said it will be difficult for China to meet its growth target this year [File: Thomas Peter/Reuters]

China’s new premier has insisted the country is open for business despite crackdowns on private enterprise, even as Chinese leader Xi Jinping doubled down on security as the “bedrock of development”.

Addressing the last day of a key gathering of China’s rubber-stamp parliament, Li Qiang said China welcomed investment and would keep improving its business climate, including by protecting the property rights of companies and the interests of entrepreneurs.

“Developing the economy is the fundamental solution for creating jobs,” Li said on Monday during the televised press conference to mark the closing of the National People’s Congress.

“Private entrepreneurs or enterprises will enjoy a better environment and broader space for development,” Li added.

As China’s No. 2 official, Li, a former Communist chief in Shanghai, is tasked with reviving the world’s second-largest economy after the end of its tough “zero-COVID” policy of lockdowns, mass testing and quarantine.

Li, who was officially named as premier on Saturday, said that meeting China’s economic growth target of 5 percent in 2023 would be “no easy task” and would require officials to “redouble our efforts”.

But Li said the public also does not focus primarily on the country’s economic indicators, but rather “specific issues” such as employment, income, education, housing, and healthcare.

China’s outgoing Premier Li Keqiang last week unveiled the country’s lowest growth target in decades as Beijing faces major long-term economic challenges, including a low birth rate, elevated tensions with the United States and uncertainty caused by regulatory crackdowns on private industry ranging from technology to education and real estate.

Li made his remarks as Xi, China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, reiterated the primacy of national security and called for the development of the military into a “Great Wall of steel”.

Alfred Muluan, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said Li’s remarks would do little to assure investors that China has deviated from a growing emphasis on security and nationalism.

“China’s domestic economy will definitely not be good because COVID hit China’s economy very substantially. I don’t think they can recover soon, although Li is very optimistic about China’s economic outlook,” Wu told Al Jazeera.

“I don’t think he really assured people that China will go back to its previous pro-business environment.”

Li, who is seen as one of Xi’s most trusted confidantes, also took aim at the US for its “encirclement and suppression” of China.

“China and the United States should cooperate, and must cooperate. When China and the US work together, there is much we can achieve,” Li said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies