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HomeOpinionChinascopeChina increases military budget again. 'Training and preparation for war' its focus

China increases military budget again. ‘Training and preparation for war’ its focus

The ’two sessions’ meeting, lianghui, began Sunday. It is a key indicator of China’s budgetary matters, economic policies for the next five years.

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The annual lianghui —two sessions—meeting opens in Beijing. China to increase the defence budget by 7.2 per cent. China sets the growth target at five per cent for 2023. Rumours circulate about the reorganisation of policing and security entities from the State Council, a new internal affairs commission under the control of Xi. Chinese foreign minister Qin Gang and Indian external affairs minister S. Jaishankar hold bilateral meetings in New Delhi. Chinascope dives into the news and chatter coming out of Beijing’s 14th National People’s Congress – and much more.

China over the week

Every year the month of March witnesses an increased tempo of political activities in Beijing as a select group of delegates arrive in the city to attend the annual ‘two sessions’ meeting.

The meeting — or lianghui — is the annual gathering of China’s two major political bodies, the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). Out of the two political bodies, the NPC is a key indicator of China’s state institution, budgetary matters, and economic policies for the next five-year period.

The 14th NPC meeting will be held between 5 and 12 March with a few key agenda items, including a potential government restructuring.

The meeting is popularly described as China’s rubber-stamp parliament. This year,  nine items will be on the agenda. It will be closely watched as the appointment of leaders to the key state institutions for the next five years under the 20th Party Congress will be confirmed. These newly appointed leaders will form the core of the Chinese state’s governance — from security to economic policy.

In October last year, Xi secured the title of ‘general secretary’ for the third consecutive time, paving the way for his confirmation as the ‘president’ at the NPC meeting. The current Premier Li Keqiang, will step down and the role will be taken up by Xi’s new second-in-command Li Qiang.

The outgoing premier delivered the work report at the opening session of the 14th NPC.

In his work report, Li laid out China’s political and economic priorities over the next five years. One of the key items he announced was the budget target for 2023.

Beijing has set a target of five per cent GDP growth for the coming fiscal year, which is lower than the 6 per cent growth target some analysts had forecast.

The five per cent target is relatively conservative as China achieved a three per cent GDP growth in 2022, one of the country’s worst economic performances in decades due to the Covid pandemic.

The Chinese state media have tried to justify the latest GDP growth target for 2023 and the dismal growth achieved in 2022.

“The growth rate of 3 per cent is faster than the economic growth rate of major economies such as the United States at 2.1 per cent, Germany at 1.9 per cent, and France at 2.6 per cent. It can be said that in the past year, under extremely difficult conditions, we have achieved the goals of preventing the pandemic, stabilising the economy, and ensuring safe development,” said an article by state-owned media outlet The Paper.

Besides the growth target, Li announced that China’s defence budget would increase by 7.2 per cent to 1.554 trillion yuan ($225 billion). The latest increase in the defence budget may appear not to be drastically higher than the recent years, but the overall defence spending has increased from 1.190 trillion yuan in 2019 to 1.554 trillion yuan in 2023.

“We should comprehensively strengthen military training and preparation for war, innovate military strategic guidance, focus on actual combat military training, and coordinate military struggles in all directions and fields. We should comprehensively strengthen military governance, consolidate and expand the achievements of national defence and military reforms, strengthen the coordination of major missions and preparations, and accelerate the implementation of major national defence development projects,” said Li in his work report.

Despite the rhetoric in international media about the coming invasion of Taiwan, the NPC work report by Li has indicated the promotion of economic and cultural exchanges with the region instead.

“We should promote economic and cultural exchanges and cooperation between the two sides of the strait, improve the system and policy to improve the well-being of the Taiwan compatriots,” said Li.

China will also increase its spending on public security by 6.4 per cent as the focus shifts towards internal security amid protests that rocked Chinese cities in late 2022.

Though the two sessions meeting is still underway, some speculation has emerged about a potential overhaul of government departments dealing with security, finance, technology, and culture. The rumours point to them being brought under the direct control of Xi.

Right before the lianghui convened, a draft of the plan to ‘reform’ state institutions was adopted at the 2nd plenary meeting of the 20th Party Congress on 28 February. The draft has given some credence to the rumours.

“Mr Xi and senior Chinese officials this week agreed to plans to give the party more direct command in an array of areas they see as critical, including security, finance, technology and culture, while further diluting the government’s role in policymaking, according to people familiar with the discussions,” reported Wall Street Journal’s Chun Han Wong and Keith Zhai.

They weren’t the only publication that has hinted at a major reshuffle.

“Reports from Hong Kong media outlets indicate that the plan involves moving policing and security functions from the State Council — a government body equivalent to China’s cabinet — to a new internal affairs commission directly controlled by the Communist Party,” reported Nikkei Asian Review’s Tsukasa Hadano.

An item on the agenda list of the meeting, the State Council Institutions Reform Plan, may also hint at this reorganisation. It is set to be discussed on 9 March.

Also Read: China’s position on Russia-Ukraine war could bring US sanctions into play

China in world news

As the season of international summitry dawns on New Delhi, the foreign ministers of the G20 countries landed in the capital for ministerial meetings under India’s presidency.

Qin Gang, the new Chinese foreign minister, was also in attendance. Qin’s first visit to New Delhi provided an opportunity to hold a bilateral meeting with his Indian counterpart S. Jaishankar.

“The border issue should be placed in an appropriate place in bilateral relations, and the border situation should be brought under control as soon as possible. China is willing to work with India to speed up the resumption of exchanges and cooperation in various fields, resume direct flights as soon as possible, and facilitate personnel exchanges,” read the press release of the meeting from the Chinese government.

The presser underplayed the discussion on the current border stand-off by quoting Jaishankar —  “The current situation on the border between the two countries is gradually stabilising”.

But Jaishankar said he characterised the current state of the relationship between the two countries as ‘abnormal’ in the meeting.

There were other India-China-related developments in the last week.

A delegation from China’s Ministry of National Defence participated in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s international military cooperation meeting at the invitation of India’s Ministry of Defence.

Must read this week

NPC 2023: How China Selects Its State Leaders for the Next Five Years – Zewei Liao

Xi’s Law-and-Order Strategy – Taisu Zhang

How American Journalists Watched China’s COVID-19 Crisis Unfold – Mike Chinoy

The author is a columnist and a freelance journalist. He was previously a China media journalist at the BBC World Service. He is currently a MOFA Taiwan Fellow based in Taipei and tweets @aadilbrar. Views are personal.

(Edited by Theres Sudeep)


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