This year’s “Two Sessions” meeting
— the most important annual event on China’s political calendar — is particularly noteworthy because Beijing will ratify its 14th five-year plan, a broad outline of goals through 2025 that policymakers have been working on for months
. The meeting kicked off last Thursday and will run through the better part of this week.
After dodging a recession last year, Beijing said Friday it expects the world’s second largest economy to grow by more than 6% in 2021, which if achieved will keep China on pace to match US GDP as early as 2028
. President Xi Jinping wants the economy to double in size by 2035.
But on the back of the bruising trade war
with the United States, China has already called out self-reliance and technological independence as major goals. And as climate change accelerates, President Xi Jinping pledged
last September that coal-guzzling China will go carbon neutral by 2060.
Those are lofty ambitions, and until now it had been far from clear how Beijing planned to achieve them. But the world got more clues last week when Premier Li Keqiang outlined some aspects of the country’s agenda, and Beijing released a draft of the five-year plan.
Shedding reliance on foreign tech
One key goal that Xi has already outlined is a desire for China to shed its reliance on the United States for key technology
, such as parts that power smartphones, computers, telecommunications gear and next-generation gadgets.
Li stressed the importance of technological development and innovation during his speech on Friday. He said that China will increase spending on research and development by more than 7% annually. The Chinese government has previously identified semiconductors, 5G networks and cloud computing as critical areas, among others.
Still, China has a long way to go to end its reliance on foreign tech. In 2019, the country imported $306 billion worth of chips
, or 15% of the value of its total imports. And Washington has severely hampered some of Beijing’s ambitions in recent months by slapping restrictions on Chinese companies, including Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC).
State vs. private sector
State-owned companies such as SMIC are central to Beijing’s drive for self-sufficiency. But private firms also have a critical role to play. After all, tech giants from Alibaba (BABA)
to Tencent (TCEHY)
have driven much of Chinese innovation in the field in recent decades.
The government has made clear in recent months — and in its new five-year plan — that such companies will be expected to toe the Chinese Communist Party line if they want to succeed.
“As Xi pursues ambitions for China at the cutting edge of technology, Beijing recognizes that a top-down approach has limits,” Eurasia Group analysts wrote in a recent research report. “But Beijing’s willingness to leave more to the market will be challenged by Xi’s sense of urgency and frequent preference for a strong hand for the [Party] and…
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