Premier Li Keqiang Meets the Press
The First Session of the 13th National People’s Congress held a press conference on 20 March 2018. Premier Li Keqiang met with Chinese and foreign reporters and answered their questions at the invitation of Spokesperson Mr Zhang Yesui. The press conference was also attended by Vice-Premiers Han Zheng, Sun Chunlan, Hu Chunhua and Liu He.
Premier Li Keqiang presented the newly-appointed vice-premiers and thanked members of the media. He then opened the floor to questions. The following is a transcript of the press conference.
Premier Li Keqiang: Members of the media, ladies and gentlemen, let me begin by expressing my high appreciation to all of you for your hard work in covering the NPC and CPPCC sessions. Before taking your questions, let me present to you the newly-appointed vice-premiers. They are: Vice-Premier Han Zheng, Vice-Premier Sun Chunlan, Vice-Premier Hu Chunhua and Vice-Premier Liu He. Now the floor is open for questions.
Bloomberg: This year is the 40th anniversary of China’s reform and opening. Over those 40 years, China has enjoyed unprecedented economic growth and hundreds of millions of people have been pulled out of poverty. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that China is entering a new era, where problems are going to become more complicated and the model of reform and opening is also changing, highlighted by the restructuring of the government departments and the revisions of the Constitution that were passed by the National People’s Congress this year.
I wanted to ask you what will the biggest difference be between reform and opening in this new era versus the past, especially when it comes to foreign investment and trade?
Premier Li: Opening-up has been instrumental to China’s economic and social transformation in the past 40 years. It has driven China’s reform agenda, promoted its development and delivered real benefits to the Chinese people. In his speech at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos last year, President Xi Jinping made it clear that China will continue to uphold free trade and pursue opening-up as a fundamental policy. If there’s anything that’s going to be different from the past, it will be that China will open even wider to the world. With its economy so integrated into the global economy, closing China’s door will only hinder our own progress.
China will continue to open up; indeed, there is still broad space to do so. China’s import tariffs are at the medium level internationally. We are committed to bringing them down still further, particularly for high-demand consumer goods. For instance, we aim to adopt zero tariff for the much needed anti-cancer drugs.
On the other hand, China runs a deficit in trade in services. Further opening of the services sector will entail a cost, but it will make the sector more competitive. We plan to widen access to elderly care, health care, education and financial services. We will ease or lift the cap on foreign ownership in some sectors. We will also make the manufacturing sector fully open. There will be no mandatory requirement for technology transfer, and intellectual property rights will be better protected.
The negative list for inbound investment will be shortened in the course of this year and the coming years. We aim to merge the three laws governing foreign investment into one law, and fully honor our commitment to foreign investors of pre-establishment national treatment.
As for your question about how the constitutional amendment and institutional reform is going to impact China’s opening-up, now that the constitutional amendment and government institutional reforms have been adopted at the NPC session, we will faithfully observe the amended Constitution and follow through on institutional reform. This will reinforce our commitment to the fundamental policy of opening-up.
I can see from some media reports that opinions are divided on market openness in China. Let me make this clear. Our goal is to gradually create a level playing field in a market of 1.3 billion consumers for both Chinese and foreign-invested enterprises of all types of ownership. This will provide Chinese consumers with more options and incentivize the upgrading of Chinese products and services and that of the overall economy.
This said, China’s opening-up will be an incremental process. In retrospect, a modest step of opening-up may sometimes yield enormous benefits. For example, five years ago we simplified the procedure for getting passports and traveling overseas. As a result, the number of outbound trips made by Chinese citizens surged from 70 million to 130 million last year, most of them being tourists and shoppers. In making sense of China’s opening-up, one needs to pay attention to the concrete steps in specific areas, but more importantly take a panoramic and long-term view. I also want to emphasize that opening needs to work both ways. It’s like rowing a boat: if only one of the two oars people is giving it their best, the boat will just keep turning on the spot. They’ll only move forward if both are working in the same direction.
China Daily: During this year’s “Two Sessions”, some delegates expressed the view that the Chinese government should pursue the reform of its own functions with the same determination as in pursuing GDP growth in the past. At the same time, we have also heard some complaints suggesting that the government-imposed transaction cost in China remains high, and it is still difficult for the people to get things done.
So I would like to ask you, Mr. Premier, what more steps will the new government take to streamline administration and delegate powers?
And what will the government do to enhance compliance oversight? Are there any specific goals in this area?
Premier Li: You asked a very important question. The transformation of government functions was high on the agenda during our first term. We saw the effort to streamline administration, delegate powers, and improve compliance oversight and government services as pivotal to getting the relationship between the government and the market right, which will further stimulate market vitality and public creativity. I’m happy to say that our efforts have paid off, and these measures have become an effective means for further reforming government functions and for unleashing and developing the productive forces.
In my discussions with them during this year’s “Two Sessions”, many delegates raised the hope that in pursuing supply-side structural reforms, the government will focus more on improving the business environment and making things easier for people to get things done. These voices represent the high expectation of market entities and our people for further actions. The issues they raise may seem small, yet they bear on major policy decisions. We must heed this call by tackling the root of the problems and pushing for breakthroughs in areas most closely related to the market and to the lives of our citizens to better respond to their needs.
As we say in Chinese, every single detail counts in the accomplishment of big tasks. Going forward, these are the 6 things we plan to do. We’ll cut the time it takes for opening a business by another half; we will reduce the time required for reviewing a project application by another half; we will put in place, at the national level, an e-platform for accessing government services; we will work to see that our people can get things done in one office, without the need for a second trip; and we will ensure that any requirement for certification that has no basis in law or regulations will be abolished.
Thanks to efforts in recent years, we have significantly cut the time required for opening a business in our country. But it still takes 22 days on national average, whereas it takes maybe less than a day in a developed country. And it takes even longer for one to get a project permit in China. So with regulatory streamlining and further tax and fee cuts, we are making profound adjustments to government functions. This is like moving the government’s own cheese.
Any regulatory streamlining can only serve its purpose when supported with enhanced compliance oversight, which helps to enforce market order. All acts of malpractice involving cheating in the marketplace, making or selling fake or substandard goods, or running unlawful monopolies, will be dealt with in strict accordance with the law and banned from the market, as they are the enemy of fairness and innovation and go against social ethics.
We believe that a vibrant market and care for the people should go hand in hand. Compliance oversight should not cause undue inconveniences to average citizens. In this round of government institutional reform, for example, we have decided to merge the various market regulatory bodies in order to slim down the bloated ranks of officials who deal with market entities on a daily basis and exercise unified law enforcement.
The first reporter who asked a question mentioned this round of government institutional reform. One part of it is to combine the state and local tax offices at and below the provincial-level. This actually reminds me of a recent discussion I had with a group of scholars. One of these experts had been doing some local research, and discovered that if you sit and eat in a restaurant, the local tax office collects business tax. But if you order takeaway, the state tax office collects VAT. So he asked a tax officer: what if I stand and eat in the doorway of the restaurant? Who collects the tax then? The officer replied, “That’s just nitpicking for the sake of it.” But actually it’s true that this kind of problem exists.
In recent years as you may know, we have introduced the reform to replace business tax with value added tax. This has enabled the sharing of tax revenues and provided the foundation for the merging of tax authorities at the central and local levels to avoid duplications that burden businesses. So all in all, our regulatory rollback and compliance oversight will contribute to a more energized market and the creation of a level playing field. I should also add that vested interests will be dealt with in the enhanced compliance oversight process.
Nothing is too small for us to do if it delivers concrete benefits to our people. The ultimate purpose of all reform measures and endeavors of the government is to serve the common good, be results-oriented, and benefit the people. In this regard, the government will further reform itself to foster a better business environment for market players, and make it easier for our people to access government services. In so doing, this government will rise up to all challenges and press ahead against all odds.
Yonhap News: There have been significant developments on the Korean Peninsula recently, with an inter-Korean summit planned for next month, the DPRK indicating willingness to denuclearize, and the US President agreeing to meet with the North Korean leader. Under such circumstances, I would like to ask, Mr. Premier, what does China expect from the settlement of the Korean nuclear issue and what role is China prepared to play to this end? Will China push forward the Six-Party Talks to resolve the nuclear issue?
Premier Li: We welcome the recent deescalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula. China supports all efforts that are conducive to the resolution of the Korean nuclear issue through dialogue and negotiation. China will continue to do all it can to take forward the denuclearization process and uphold peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. We hope that all parties will show sincerity and take concrete actions to get the nuclear issue back to the track of negotiation and strive for new progress towards denuclearization and peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. We believe this serves the interests of all parties and the world at large.
The Korean Peninsula is in China’s close neighborhood. China’s own interests are at stake. So you can well imagine how concerned we are with the situation there.
CCTV: Concerned about the safety of their property, some private business people are reluctant to make new investments. Some are even trying to transfer their assets overseas. We have also heard complaints from private businesses about the inaction or arbitrary behaviors on the part of some government officials. Premier Li, what will your government do to resolve this problem?
Premier Li: Since reform and opening-up, we have remained committed to unswervingly consolidating and developing the public sector and unswervingly supporting and developing the non-public sector. It is fair to say that businesses of all types of ownership, private as well as state-owned, have made important contributions to the historic progress of the Chinese economy in the past few decades. Nowadays, private businesses account for about half of the tax revenues. They also contribute 80% to employment and create 90% of new urban jobs. It’s true that private investment has been less than robust due to weak protection of property rights and some other factors. We are paying high attention to addressing this problem.
Property rights are the cornerstone of our socialist market economy.
Protecting lawful property rights is like nurturing the productive forces. Hence it has been a high-priority item on the government agenda, and every effort has been made to tackle the problems our people have encountered in this area. For example, at last year’s press conference I was asked about the potential effect of the expiration of land use rights for residential homes. I responded by pledging automatic renewal of the rights and the protection of all such transactions. I also called for amending the relevant law to reflect this policy. Since then, we have also reaffirmed the extension of the current rural land contracts by another 30 years. These are examples of our efforts to protect property rights through means of law, which is a good indication of our commitment to the rule of law.
Let me emphasize that contracts must be honored and not treated as scrap paper. Continuity is essential to good governance. New officials must not be allowed to disavow obligations undertaken by their predecessors; those who have done so will be duly punished. Last year, some property rights cases which were poorly adjudicated were redressed. These actions are meant to send a signal to the society of our resolve to ensure that all property owners and investors, regardless of the type of ownership, will have peace of mind as long as they operate within the confines of the law.
Lianhe Zaobao of Singapore: With China’s economic rise, some critics have been saying that China is increasingly using its money and market as political tools to try to influence other countries’ foreign policies or make some sort of political infiltration. How would you respond to that? Should the world feel worried about China’s rise and its strategic expansion?
Premier Li: In recent years, China’s economic growth has contributed some thirty percent to global growth. This has been conducive not only to global economic recovery but also to world peace. More trade and more cooperation mean more negotiations, and that helps to keep conflicts away. The Chinese believe that one must not do to others what one does not like to be done to himself. We always value peace. We are resolute in upholding China’s territorial integrity and will never give up a single inch of our own territory. In a similar vein, we will not take or occupy an inch of others’ land. What we pursue is a road of peaceful development.
Our development so far has been achieved in a peaceful international environment. Going forward, a peaceful international environment remains what China needs for attaining modernization. Let me emphasize two points:
One, China will not seek expansion. China remains a developing country who has no intention to pursue expansion. Even if it grows stronger in the future, it will continue to defy the logic which predestines a rising country to hegemony. What China wants is to develop relations with all other countries and regions on the basis of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit. Together, we could build a community with a shared future for mankind.
China’s business cooperation with other countries follows market principles and business rules. In pursuing the Belt and Road Initiative, we have sought shared benefits through consultation and collaboration. China’s assistance within its capacity to some other developing countries, especially underdeveloped countries, has never come with political strings. It has nothing to do with political influence. In some areas, the international community may want China to assume a greater role. Well, China is ready to fulfill its due international responsibilities commensurate with its status as a major developing country. It would be a misunderstanding to see China playing such a role as seeking strategic expansion.
My second point is that we will continue to focus on managing China’s own affairs well. As Chinese Premier, I am fully aware that my country is still confronted with many difficulties and challenges, including many pressing livelihood issues. We in the government must deal with these challenges on a daily basis. We travel and make friends around the world in order to foster a peaceful and stable environment, internationally and in our neighborhood, and create more win-win opportunities for China’s development. We know clearly that this is what we should continue to do.
People’s Daily: Mr. Premier, in your government work report you said that fairer and fuller employment should always be a highlight of high quality development in China. At the same time, however, college graduates, laid-off workers from cutting overcapacity and demobilized military personnel continue to face difficulty in getting jobs, which means daunting challenges in ensuring employment. What do you plan to do to tackle this problem?
Premier Li: Whether the government is doing a good job in employment is best judged by our people. I don’t think anyone would be able to cover it up if we fall short on job creation. Let me first address what we plan to do on the employment front this year, as this year’s performance will be a good indicator of what is to come in the next five years.
In recent years, with the Chinese economy operating within its proper range, some 60 million new urban jobs have been generated, ensuring relatively full employment in China. This has been a big achievement. Employment is of paramount importance for each and every family, and nothing is gloomier for it than zero employment of its members. A college graduate would not have a future if graduation means joblessness. Governments at all levels must fully appreciate the importance of employment, and always put job creation high on their agenda. In this year’s government work report, for the first time, we incorporated surveyed urban unemployment as a projected target, to better reflect the employment situation in both urban and rural areas. This is the government putting pressure on itself.
In urban areas, we expect to see some 15 to 16 million new entrants to the job market this year. Our minimum target is to generate another 11 million new jobs and we will work towards the goal of 13 million in actual practice. We have been able to do that in the past several years and there’s no reason for us not to hit that mark this year. Moreover, we have some 280 million rural migrant workers. They have worked hard to pave roads and build skyscrapers in the cities, making great contribution to China’s development.
Getting migrant workers employed is an important part of China’s urbanization process and a big source of their income. This year, we expect to see some three to four million rural migrant workers coming to the cities, the government must endeavor to fulfill its responsibility in providing job opportunities for these people.
This year, there will be 8.2 million college graduates, another record high number, and five million graduates from secondary vocational schools. In addition, there will be some one million demobilized military personnel and workers laid off in the cutting of overcapacity. We must make every effort to ensure their employment. In particular, there should be no zero employment families. We must also explore new channels for creating jobs, not least by fostering new growth drivers, which have a proven track record of job creation in the past few years. Fairly full employment will also be a major wealth generator. Just imagine, how much wealth will be created by China’s 800 million-strong labor force out of its 1.3 billion population. This will also offer a huge opportunity for international markets.
NBC News: Premier Li, there is increasing concern that China will displace the United States as the world’s leader and a lot of talk about a trade war as punishment for what critics describe as unfair trading, industrial policies over an authoritarian, state-led economic model of China. So Mr. Premier, in your view, what measures can be taken to address America’s concerns and prevent a trade war? Do you still believe that dialogue can resolve what looks like an imminent threat? And what can China do in the event of a trade war? Would you, for example, use China’s vast foreign exchange reserves and massive holding of American debt? Thank you.
Premier Li: Indeed, there has been much talk about an emerging trade war between China and the United States recently. We believe a trade war does nobody any good. No one will emerge a winner from a trade war. War is essentially the antithesis of trade, and trade disputes should be resolved through negotiation, consultation and dialogue. What we hope is that cool heads and rational actions will prevail instead of emotions or impulses holding sway. A trade war should best be avoided.
Last year, China-US trade reached $580 billion. This is achieved through observing business rules and market principles. Otherwise, such a big volume of trade would be unthinkable. A large trade deficit, either with the United States or any other country, is not what China goes after. We want to see a basically balanced trade. Otherwise, it would not be sustainable.
Just now I listed some further steps of opening-up China is going to take covering services, manufacturing and products. US businesses may well seize these opportunities. At the same time, we hope the United States will ease restrictions on exporting high-tech and high value-added goods to China. The associated intellectual property rights will be fully protected. We hope this important measure for balancing China-US trade will not be passed over. Otherwise a good opportunity would be missed.
China has vast foreign exchange reserves. We have been making diversified investments of these reserves on the basis of market principles, and China will remain a responsible long-term investor. The relationship between China and the United States is one between the world’s largest developing country and largest developed country. Our economies are highly complementary. A stable China-US relationship is in the interest of both countries and the whole world. Any worry about China’s greater development is unnecessary.
China News Service: Mr. Premier, we have noticed that recently some mandatory steps have been taken against certain Chinese insurance and financial companies. Will this happen again in the future? Does this mean that new risks are building in China? And will they set off systemic financial risks?
Premier Li: Let me make it very clear as a person who holds responsibility in this area: China has the capability to forestall systemic financial risks and I do not foresee such risks. This is because the fundamentals of China’s economy remain strong, and its financial system is in good shape. That said, as China’s GDP exceeds 80 trillion yuan with 250 trillion yuan of assets in the banking sector, our financial system is not risk free.
Just as a proverb goes, gathering clouds may bring rain and tall trees catch the wind. I recall that at the press conference a couple of years ago, I pointed out that both the capital adequacy ratio and provision coverage ratio of Chinese commercial banks are fairly high and above international standards. Let me add here that the required reserve ratio stands at about 15 percent, which is equivalent to us having some 20 trillion yuan stashed away against risks.
This year, we have taken the initiative to cut the budget deficit to GDP ratio, supported by the sustained momentum of steady growth and higher than expected tax revenues. Last year, the central government had an extra fiscal revenue of 250 billion yuan above projection, and we have yet to dig into that amount of money. The first two months of this year saw a double digit increase in China’s fiscal revenues. So we are confident about meeting all the major economic and social development targets this year.
Going forward, we plan to further cut the deficit ratio. But this does not mean we will change our proactive fiscal policy, for this year will see considerable increase in the fiscal spending relative to last year. Our ability to cut the deficit ratio shows our confidence in the health of our economy and is also meant to make provisions for guarding against global uncertainties and emerging risks at home.
True, some irregularities and evasion of regulation in the financial sector have occurred. The relevant authorities have taken resolute measures to deal with the pockets of risks to prevent them from further spreading. When a blister needs bursting, it should be burst. Otherwise, a small problem may escalate and entail moral hazards. In dealing with these cases, we have taken care to protect the lawful rights and interests of our consumers, and have gained further experience in this area. We will continue to resolutely tackle such cases should they arise in the future.
In this round of institutional reform, we have decided to merge the insurance and banking regulatory bodies to plug possible loopholes. At the same time we do face another old problem of illegal fund raising. The government will keep up the fight against such illegal activities. I would also like to advise all investors not to buy into the lies of those illegal fundraisers who’d have you believe a bamboo basket will hold a gallon of water.
RIA Novosti: Mr. Premier, two years ago I asked you at the press conference about the China-Russia relationship being close politically but lukewarm economically. It seems that this is still how some people would describe the China-Russia relationship today. Russia just held its presidential election and will soon form a new government. As Chinese Premier at the start of a new term, what actions do you hope the new Russian government will take to enhance the business ties between the two countries, and what will the Chinese government do? What political message would you like to convey to Russia?
Premier Li: On the evening of the 19th, President Xi Jinping and President Putin had a telephone conversation and President Xi congratulated his Russian counterpart on his re-election.
Recent years did see a slide in China-Russia trade because of the changing landscape of global trade and the downturn in commodity prices. However, that slide was reversed last year and our trade registered an over 20% growth year on year. Between our two large economies, trade now exceeds $80 billion. I believe there is still much untapped potential in China-Russia trade. We can work together to bump it up to, say, $100 billion, by exploring new mechanisms and unlocking potential. What I would like to say to the Russian people is that China and Russia are each other’s biggest neighbors.
The steady growth of the comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination between China and Russia serves the interests of both countries and the world at large.
EBC of Taiwan: In recent years, due to various reasons, cross-Strait relations have encountered some serious challenges with uncertain prospects. My question is, under such circumstances, what will the mainland do to uphold the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations and promote the well-being of people on both sides?
Premier Li: The peaceful development of cross-Strait relations serves the well-being of people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, and we will continue to go down this path. We have been working on ways to ensure that our fellow countrymen and women from Taiwan will enjoy the same treatment as mainlanders when they come to work, live or study on the mainland, because we are members of the same family, and we both belong to one and the same China. That said, any attempt, proposition or activity for “Taiwan independence” must not be tolerated, and we must not allow any external forces to play “the Taiwan card” to cause difficulties for people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait and for cross-Strait relations. We are willing to have dialogue and consultation with all political parties and groups on Taiwan which subscribe to the one-China principle to discuss all issues that concern people on both sides. We should work together to uphold the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations and eventually achieve China’s peaceful reunification. We believe herein lies the fundamental interests of our nation.
Guangming Daily: Mr. Premier, the reform of China’s healthcare system has made good strides in recent years, but often a major illness can still land a family in severe difficulty. What steps will the new government take to address the problem of illness-induced poverty?
Premier Li: In the past few years, we have made enormous efforts to improve the basic health insurance system. A medical insurance safety net, the largest of its kind in the world, has been put in place to treat both minor and serious illnesses. This being said, some families living in poverty or those who have difficulty accessing quality medical resources do face the kind of problems that you mentioned. A lot of such cases are reported in the new media.
China is a vast country; we still have some thirty million people living in poverty. The Party Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core gives high priority to poverty eradication and has made the pledge of winning the fight against poverty. Among the impoverished population, many are pushed or have fallen back into poverty because of a serious disease. The government, while improving the basic healthcare system, has given greater attention to the treatment of serious diseases. We have adopted some innovative measures; for example, we have complemented basic health insurance with commercial insurance schemes. By harnessing the law of large numbers, such an arrangement has produced an amplifying effect of the insurance funds and extended the coverage of serious disease insurance to 17 million people last year.
This year, we plan to do more. We will raise central government subsidies for basic medical insurance schemes, and half of the increase will go to serious disease insurance. Our aim is to cover at least 20 million people and more types of serious diseases in the insurance program. What’s more, we will encourage the development of telemedicine and healthcare consortiums to make quality medical resources more accessible at the community level.
During my inspection trip on the eve of this past Spring Festival, I dropped in on a poor family and met an elderly woman there who was seriously ill. Although she had insurance coverage, the family still found the treatment unaffordable. Their plight is still vivid in my memory. A Chinese saying compares a major illness to a mountain falling down. When such an illness strikes, it is our hope that the family will still find protection. That’s the very purpose of us having major illness insurance program and other similar mechanisms.
TBS: This year marks the 40th anniversary of the China-Japan Peace and Friendship Treaty. Mr. Premier, when you met Foreign Minister Kōno in January, you have said the relationship is warming up but there are still some cold parts left. If so, what more should both sides do for the relationship to fully recover? And in the upcoming occasion of trilateral summit including South Korea, would you intend to accept the invitation for your first official visit to Japan and will that be the start of the reciprocal visits by the two countries’ leaders?
Premier Li: We have seen signs of improvement in China-Japan relations lately. Prime Minister Abe has invited me on several occasions to visit Japan. In an atmosphere of continuously improving ties, I would be ready to positively consider paying an official visit to Japan while attending the China-Japan-ROK Leaders’ Meeting there in the first half of this year.
Improvement of China-Japan relations requires not just the right atmosphere, but also vision and commitment. Exchange of visits at the leadership level will help get this relationship back on the track of steady development, but we must look to consolidate the foundation of China-Japan relations rather than just make a one-time deal. There needs to be sustained, steady progress of this relationship. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the China-Japan Treaty of Peace and Friendship. It’s important to honor the spirit and the consensus reached in the four Sino-Japanese political documents including the Treaty of Peace and Friendship. If we have seen a spring in China-Japan relationship, we must also watch out for any possible return of chills. We need to work together for the sustained, steady development of this relationship. That is what is expected of Japan.
Xinhua News Agency: The Internet Plus model has been widely used in recent years and there is a boom in the sharing economy. Meanwhile, in this process some problems have cropped up, and their development may face some hurdles in the future. How do you see the situation, Mr. Premier? And what will the government do to promote further development of the Internet Plus model?
Premier Li: In recent years the Internet Plus model has played an important role in promoting the steady growth of China’s economy, like a new sail being installed on the big ship riding the wave of a new round of global technological revolution. Transformed government functions have helped to energize the market. Consumption has become the biggest driver of China’s development, and there has been a fundamental change in China’s economic structure. All this interconnected progress, together with the new drivers, has enabled the Chinese economy to defy repeated predictions of a hard landing and sustain a sound momentum of economic growth.
The Internet Plus model has not just fostered new drivers of growth, but also provided the largest platform for the sharing economy, giving opportunity for our people to pursue their own entrepreneurship and make innovations. It has made a big difference in China’s economic and social development and profoundly changed the way we work and live. In this context, technological professionals, business people or the average people can all tap into their unique potential and have the opportunities to prove their talents.
As a new phenomenon, the Internet Plus may also have its own problems. In this process, we need to maximize its benefits while taking care to address its possible downsides. In exercising regulation over new things, we believe the government needs to adopt a prudent yet accommodative approach. We should neither shut them down once problems occur, which would be the easier thing to do, nor allow the Internet Plus model to become a hotbed for cheating and manipulation. We should guard against both of these risks.
As the next step, we will adopt more measures to encourage the growth of this model. For example, Chinese internet companies tend to get listed overseas. What we plan to do is to improve the conditions for them to return to the mainland markets. We will also create conditions in keeping with the law for our mainland high-tech or innovation companies to get listed on the mainland markets. We need to further develop the Internet Plus model by applying smart technologies to education, health care, government services and other services sectors to promote fast and sound growth of the digital economy and the sharing economy. We need to both follow existing patterns and think out of the box in developing these models.
Phoenix TV of Hong Kong: Mr. Premier, in your government work report this year, you said efforts will be made to develop the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, support Hong Kong and Macao in integrating their own development into overall national development and further enhance the mutually beneficial cooperation between the mainland and these two regions. But some people in Hong Kong feel somewhat worried whether this will undercut Hong Kong’s unique role, or affect the implementation of “one country, two systems”, or even blur the line between the two systems. How would you respond to that?
Premier Li: We want to build the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area into a world-class city cluster with the three places drawing upon each other’s comparative strengths; otherwise this Greater Bay Area would not be competitive internationally. The outline for the development program is being formulated and will be adopted for implementation. For people from Hong Kong and Macao who come to work or live on the mainland, especially in Guangdong, we will gradually introduce the same treatment for them as mainlanders in terms of housing, education and transportation, among others. We would also like to share such opportunities with people from Taiwan.
We encourage Hong Kong and Macao to integrate their own development into overall national development. In this process, we will continue to observe the principle of “one country, two systems” under which the people of Hong Kong administer Hong Kong, the people of Macao administer Macao, and both regions enjoy a high degree of autonomy. As there can be mutually beneficial cooperation and common development between different countries, there is even more reason for the three places which belong to one and the same country to do so. Under the guidance of the “one country, two systems” principle, we are confident that these three areas will draw upon each other’s strengths and work together in building a new and strong region of vibrant growth.
China Radio International: Mr. Premier, given the aging of the Chinese population, quality and inexpensive old-age care is woefully lacking. It was also reported last year that a Chinese province ran behind its pension payouts, raising concerns about similar problem in other provinces. How should this problem be addressed and what will the government do to ensure adequate old-age support for the over 200 million senior citizens in China?
Premier Li: It’s already lunch time, and your question is also about a livelihood issue. We must ensure that old-age pensions will be paid in full and on time. The problem that you described did happen in certain provinces last year. I made a point of raising the issue of pension payouts each time I visit old industrial bases or hold discussions with the delegates during this year’s Two Sessions. The difficulties that some provinces face are mainly due to the decline in their fiscal revenues at the time of local economic downturn. But they have taken multiple steps to address the issue, such as putting to better use state-owned assets or adjusting the structure of government expenditure. The central government has also provided some funding support for this.
Despite the difficulties faced by some provinces, at the national level, we are capable of making pension payment in full and on time. As of the end of last year, the balance of China’s pension insurance funds for urban workers stood at over 4.1 trillion yuan, and we had more revenues than expenditures. We also have 1.8 trillion yuan in social security fund as a strategic reserve, which is still increasing. So we are fully capable of ensuring full and timely payment of pension benefits nationwide.
We will continue to pursue reform in this area. This year, we plan to establish a central system of pension fund provisions that can be transferred to provinces in case of need. The initial contribution rate for all provinces will be three percent, which means each province will contribute three percent of their funds to the central provision to be used to fill the shortfalls that some provinces may face. In addition, we will use some of the state-owned asset proceeds to replenish the national social security fund to make it safer and more profitable. These measures will help to deliver stronger old-age support to the senior people in China. We should give people confidence in the future. Think about it, if decades of hard work cannot earn one a decent retirement life, our future generations will lose faith in us.
We should never see senior people as a liability, though. There are still so many things that they can do and a retired life can also offer tremendous business opportunities and turn out to be an important industry. That said, we will never shirk the government’s due responsibility in extending adequate old-age support.
Just now the moderator said this is going to be the last question. I recall that previously we also addressed several questions related to people’s livelihood. Under the guidance of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, we will continue to put people first. The efforts made by a people’s government boils down to the purpose of serving our people’s well-being and improving their lives. We will continue to take strong measures to ensure people’s basic living needs, address their pressing concerns, make more quality resources available, and deliver more concrete benefits to our people.
Chutian Metropolis Daily: Mr. Premier, how much will the personal income tax threshold be raised?
Premier Li: We will start the relevant process expeditiously and the procedures will be handled in accordance with law.