China unveiled a cautious growth target for 2023 on Sunday, March 5, but a boost in defense spending, at the opening of its annual parliamentary session that will allow Xi Jinping to remain president for five more years. The defense budget - the second largest in the world after that of the United States - will rise 7.2 percent this year to 1,553.7 billion yuan ($225 billion), its biggest increase since 2019.
Faced with nearly 3,000 deputies from the National People's Congress (ANP) gathered at the People's Palace in Beijing, outgoing Prime Minister Li Keqiang assured that "the attempts at containment from outside continue to 'intensify'. He called for "increasing" army training as well as "combat readiness" as Sino-American tensions, especially around the Taiwan issue, rise.
After three years of slowdown due to anti-Covid restrictions, "China's economy is enjoying a solid recovery," Li Keqiang said. The 2023 target of "about 5%" is, however, one of the lowest in decades.
In 2022, China's GDP grew by just 3%, amid a global economic slowdown, the Covid-19 outbreak, lockdowns and a real estate crisis. "China's economic development has come up against multiple unexpected factors both at home and abroad, such as the epidemic," Li Keqiang said on Sunday.
But "under the strong leadership of the Party Central Committee, we have effectively coordinated epidemic prevention and control and economic and social development," he added. The nine-day parliamentary session will decide on the renewal, for five years, of Xi Jinping as head of state as president. The 69-year-old leader had already been confirmed as Party leader in October.
As every year, few surprises are expected from this carefully orchestrated event, during which thousands of politicians from different provinces travel to Beijing to vote, almost unopposed, for texts already pre-approved by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). in power. But Xi Jinping has encountered some pitfalls in recent months, with protests in late November against his "zero Covid" policy and then a wave of deaths following the abandonment of this maligned health strategy.
These sensitive issues will probably not be discussed during this parliamentary session where Li Qiang, a close friend of Xi Jinping and ex-head of the CCP in Shanghai, should be appointed as the new Prime Minister. Security has been tightened in Beijing in recent days in anticipation of the event, with checks at the entrance to the capital and security guards present at the edge of the streets as well as near bridges.
Despite the zero Covid episode which has tarnished his image, Xi Jinping maintains a "fairly strong" position at the top of the Party, which makes him virtually untouchable, observes Alfred Muluan Wu, professor at the National University of Singapore. For Steve Tsang, of the SOAS China Institute at the University of London, Xi Jinping has the opportunity during this parliamentary session to praise his management of popular discontent at the end of November.
“He acted decisively when, during the protests, there were calls for him and the CCP to leave. He smothered them and removed the motive "for anger," he told Agence France-Presse. So "he can present himself as a leader, rather than someone pushed to react," he points out. MEPs will also discuss several economic and social issues, ranging from strengthening sex education in schools to boosting the birth rate and online harassment.