In his opening remarks, Premier Li Keqiang said that he was delighted to meet friends from the media and thanked the journalists for their hard work in covering China’s NPC and CPPCC Sessions. He noted that the press conference was again held via video link this year and then opened the floor for questions.
CNBC: Premier Li, the coronavirus pandemic has affected the way in which many jobs are done and located. What changes has China seen in the last year for its jobs in terms of quality and salary? And what specific measures will China take especially as the population ages? How has this affected consumption especially for foreign brands?
Premier Li: Employment is of paramount importance for a family and a country. In the raging times of COVID-19 last year when bustling streets were deserted and shops were closed, our biggest concern was massive job losses.I recall a visit to a small shop during a local inspection tour. The shop owner told me that he was practically out of business for almost three months, but because of the government support in tax and fee cuts, exemptions of utility bills and rents, and wage subsidies, he managed to pull through and didn’t let any employee go. I asked him if he could still afford to pay his employees wages. He said he gave them some living allowances. There were some 20 employees on the spot. They all said they had nothing to complain about when they could still have something to cover their basic needs in such difficult times. Both the company and the employees were aware that as long as the company and jobs were there, once production was resumed, business would go up.
Last year, we faced much uncertainty in formulating macro policies. In the end, we decided not to set a numerical target for GDP growth, and with long and hard thinking, we set the target of new urban jobs at no less than nine million. Employment is the foundation of people’s well-being and development. It is also a source of wealth. We said we would strive for a positive growth of China’s economy for the whole year, out of the belief that if we could add no less than nine million new urban jobs, we would be able to achieve positive growth of the economy. Employment helps to generate income, boost consumption and drive economic growth.
Last year, under the strong leadership of the CPC Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core, and thanks to joint efforts made by all sides, the market entities showed great resilience, and our people faced the difficulty in solidarity.For the whole year, we added 11.86 million new urban jobs. The economy expanded by 2.3 percent. There was continued increase in household income. All these performances were better than expectations.
This year, we still face mounting pressure in employment. Some 14 million new entrants will join the labor force, including another record high of college graduates totaling 9.09 million. We also need to meet the employment needs of ex-service members, and some 270 million to 280 million rural migrant workers. We will continue to give top priority to employment in the macro policies this year. Employment will remain at the top of the “six priorities” where stability is the key and the “six areas” where protections are needed. The pro-job policies introduced last year will be kept in place, and beefed up in some respects. Other policies should also be conducive to job creation. We believe that steady economic rebound will boost employment, and expansion in employment will in turn promote steady and sound growth of the economy.
We have set the projected target of no less than 11 million new urban jobs for this year, and we hope to overfulfill it in actual implementation. In generating jobs, we will continue to enable the market to play a principal role. In other words, we will continue to promote employment by supporting market entities. We will stabilize and expand employment, and at the same time, open up new channels for job creation. During the pandemic last year, we saw some new changes in the means of employment. New drivers of growth that developed rapidly in China in recent years, including online shopping and express delivery services, showed a strong momentum of expansion despite COVID-19 impacts. They helped to boost employment and the growth of some traditional industries. We will continue to encourage the creation of stable jobs, and also promote flexible employment, which is now rapidly developing in China. About 200 million people are involved in flexible employment. Some people work several jobs, which is quite tough. The government will provide them with subsidies for social security, and introduce institutionalized methods to give them basic protections in terms of occupational injury to bolster the healthy and stable growth of flexible employment.
As for the elderly population you referred to in your question, there are some 260 million elderly people in China. Industries related to services for elderly people are big sunrise industries as there is diverse demand among the senior population. The Chinese market is multi-tiered with diverse consumer demand. This big, open market represents great opportunities for products, services and investments from foreign companies.
Our country has a 1.4 billion population. The labor force remains our most abundant resource. Our people are hardworking and resilient. Whenever there is an opportunity, they will seize it and put their talent to good use. A good life hinges on diligence. With diligence, one has no fear for shortages. I believe with the hard work of our people, we will be able to achieve common prosperity over time.
Agencia EFE: The United States has blamed China for the so-called lack of transparency to the WHO mission in Wuhan last month. The chief of the team said the Chinese counterparts shared a lot of details with them but he said they would like to have access to more raw data about earlier cases of illness similar to COVID-19 between October 2019 and December 2019. Will China provide these data and be willing to receive another mission visit?
Premier Li: COVID-19 is a global public health contingency. Like other countries,China also hopes that we can get to the bottom of where the virus came from as early as possible. This will help us to stem the spread of the virus and make covid containment more effective. Tracing the origins of the virus is a complex science matter. It calls for closer cooperation among countries and continuous research. The Chinese side has acted in a fact-based manner and with an open, transparent and cooperative approach. China has maintained communication with the WHO and provided support to the WHO mission during its research work in China. We will continue to work with the WHO in taking work on this front forward.
The virus is still spreading in many parts of the world. In addition to tracing its origins, our pressing task is to enhance COVID-19 response, including vaccine rollout. COVID-19 is a common enemy of humankind. We hope that all countries will come together to defeat this virus, for no country can do it alone. We have strong faith in the ability of humanity to prevail over the disease eventually. I also hope that next year we will be able to have the press conference face-to-face.
NIKKEI: In delivering the Government Work Report, you said the Chinese government would set its GDP growth target for 2021 at above six percent. Many international institutions forecast that China’s economy may well grow at about eight percent this year. In the first year of the period covered by the 14th Five-Year Plan, in addition to expanding investment in fixed assets, we are also seeing a risk of an over-heated real estate sector due to excessive liquidity worldwide. Currently the Chinese government is pursuing accommodative fiscal and monetary policies. Mr. Premier, given the aforementioned factors, is there a possibility for China to tighten its macro policies this year? According to estimates by the Japan Center on Economic Research, the size of China’s economy will surpass that of the United States in 2028. What is your comment on that?
Premier Li: I have taken note of the much attention paid to China’s above six percent of GDP growth target, and the much analysis about it. Some people believe it is positive whereas some say it is below expectation. We would certainly be happy to see robust growth, but we are also keenly aware that the economy has just recovered and there are many incomparable factors this year. What’s more, there is also great uncertainty in global economic recovery. A six percent GDP growth target is not a low target. China’s GDP has reached 100 trillion RMB yuan. A six percent growth rate means adding an output of six trillion RMB yuan, which is equivalent to the amount generated by an over eight percent growth rate at the start of the 13th Five-Year Plan period. Moreover, by setting the GDP growth target at above six percent, we have left possibilities open, which means in actual delivery, there may be even faster growth. A projected target is not something set in stone. It intends to guide expectations. We will further consolidate the foundation of economic recovery, promote high quality development and make our development truly sustainable. This target should also be aligned with what we can accomplish next year and the year after next. We must avert wild swings in economic performance which will de-anchor market expectations. A growth too fast will not be a steady one. We need a steady pace to sustain China’s development. What we hope for such a big economy as China’s is sustained and sound growth for the long term.