China’s annual Two Sessions have always been an important opportunity for the international community to observe where the world’s second largest economy is heading.
This year is certainly no exception.
The Two Sessions refer to the annual gatherings of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), China’s top legislature and political advisory body, respectively.
As this year’s Two Sessions continue, poverty reduction, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), further opening-up to foreign investment and high-quality growth have become the buzzwords attracting the attention of experts around the world.
In the government work report delivered at the opening of the annual NPC session on March 5, China pledges to reduce its population of rural poor by over 10 million this year.
Official figures show that over the past 40 years, China has lifted more than 700 million of its rural residents out of poverty, and the poverty rate — the proportion of people living below the Chinese poverty line — had fallen among the rural population from 97.5 percent in 1978 to 3.1 percent at the end of 2017.
“For me, it is just a miracle that over 40 years, over the course of one working lifetime, China has gone from one of the poorest countries in the world” to one that is about to eliminate absolute poverty, said Craig Allen, president of the U.S.-China Business Council.
Varaprasad Sekhar Dolla, a professor of Chinese studies at India’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, also spoke highly of China’s achievements in poverty reduction.
“If global poverty came down quite substantially in the last three or four decades, it’s partly because of the Chinese contribution to reducing poverty within its own national boundaries,” said the Indian scholar.
In the eyes of Khairy Tourk, a professor of economics with the Stuart School of Business at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, “many countries look up to China to learn from its experience.”
“The Chinese experience is based on building a modern infrastructure and then on setting up special economic zones that would help underdeveloped countries to industrialise,” he added.
The BRI, first proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, refers to the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, and aims to build a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe, Africa and beyond.
At a press conference on the sidelines of the ongoing Two Sessions, Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the initiative has become the world’s largest platform for international cooperation and the most welcomed global public good.
He noted that a total of 123 countries and 29 international organisations have signed BRI agreements with China.
Keith Bennett, vice chairman of Britain’s 48 Group Club, a consultancy network for British companies seeking to do business with China, said that the BRI “is inclusive and offers the greatest opportunity for both investment and development in decades.”
“Its emphasis on infrastructure and connectivity lays the best possible foundations for promoting all-round, comprehensive economic development and improvement of people’s livelihood in the future,” he said.
Noting that China treats each country on the basis of equality, Tourk said, “I think it’s a matter of time before all nations come to realise the wisdom behind the Belt and Road Initiative.”
China is the only major country in history “that has made the development of poor countries one of its top priorities,” he added. “Through the BRI, many of these nations are fortunate to enjoy Chinese funding and know-how for the building of modern infrastructure and industrial economic zones.”
The BRI, he said, “is going to be the engine of growth in the 21st century.”
Another hot topic is the draft law on foreign investment that is expected to be voted on during this year’s Two Sessions.
Cai Hua, a national legislator and director of Wisely Law Office in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin, said that “the emphasis on foreign investment law demonstrates China’s determination to protect intellectual property,” which will increase the confidence of foreign investors.
The draft law, said Tourk, will make “it easier for foreign firms to do business in China.”
Sotiris Petropoulos, an assistant professor at the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the University of the Peloponnese in Greece, voiced a similar opinion.
Once passed, “the new law is expected to decrease barriers to foreign investment and render foreign companies’ operations within the country easier and more balanced than before,” he said.
Mahmoud Raya, editor-in-chief of the “China in Arab Eyes” news website, said the draft law is “considered as a fundamental change in China’s foreign investment management system, which will improve openness, transparency and predictability of the investment environment.”
“I think that the Chinese leadership is very wise, and that they realise that market-oriented competition will lead to greater growth,” said Allen. “And one way to spur that growth is to allow foreign companies to play a stronger role in China.”
In this year’s government work report, China sets its gross domestic product (GDP) growth target for 2019 at 6-6.5 percent, and vows to promote high-quality and sustainable growth.
“During the initial years of the country’s economic miracle, China experienced double-digit growth rates. Now it is pursuing high-quality sustainable development, and is on its way to join the ranks of advanced nations by the middle of this century,” said Tourk.
“The Chinese development has fascinated the world. It has made the country the workshop of the world. It has also created the biggest middle class in history,” he added.
To Suliaman Turay, a lecturer and researcher on business and public policy with the Pan African Institute for Development West Africa, a think tank in Cameroon, China’s economic growth is a real eye-opener for African countries.
“The steady increase in high-tech investment speaks volumes of the determination of China to maintain stable and quality growth,” he said, adding that Africans need to gain a competitive advantage in international trade by learning from the Chinese people.
“As long as China continues to upgrade its economic structure for quality growth, driven by innovations in science and technology, its development will continue to offer opportunities for African countries,” Turay noted.
Elvis Ngolle Ngolle, a professor at the University of Yaounde II in Cameroon, said Chinese innovation is helping to boost economic and social development in other countries, and helping them cultivate their own talent.
A good example, Ngolle said, is the Chinese agricultural technology which “is transforming barren land into fertile farmland in Africa.”
“As China continues to realise more benefits from its reform, the innovative spirit of the Chinese people will continue to flourish, which will contribute even more to the progress of mankind,” he added.