Just as China is squeezing big in Washington, the United States is casting a growing shadow over Chinese political decision-making as the world’s second-largest economy this week begins with what Prime Minister Li Keqiang called “a new journey to build China into a modern socialist country in all respects. . ”
In an opening speech before the National People’s Congress started on Friday, Li unveiled a new national development plan focusing on an increased emphasis on research and innovation. China̵
Frictions with the United States rippled under other topics on this year’s agenda. Officials unveiled far-reaching proposals for Hong Kong that would decisively cleanse members of the opposition’s pro-democracy camp – many of whom Beijing has slammed as US-backed, “anti-China forces” – from local elections. By placing power to effectively screen candidates for the Hong Kong Legislative Council and its Executive Director with an enlarged committee supporting Beijing, the new amendments will call for a death of representative politics in the city.
The government also released a new budget for 2021 that showed military spending was accelerating to grow by 6.8 percent for the year. That was a slight increase from last year, when China tightened its purse strings to navigate the coronavirus outbreak.
When President Xi Jinping looked at the Great Hall of the People, Li told nearly 3,000 delegates that China scored a “greater strategic success” against coronavirus, had conquered rural poverty and now looks forward to a “new phase” in its rise. Chinese research and development spending will increase by 7 percent a year faster than before, Li promised, while public funding for basic scientific research will increase by 10 percent.
China would patiently nurture breakthroughs, Li said, “just as a blacksmith in past years would spend years forging the perfect sword.”
China’s R & D spending has steadily risen from less than 1 percent of annual economic output in 2000 to well over 2 percent. But in recent months, Chinese leaders have been talking about the need to invest more in a moment when China is subject to hefty technological sanctions that deprive the pioneering semiconductors as well as other forms of competitive pressure from Washington.
“Given the uncertainty surrounding US-China relations and the inability to rely on partnerships with the US, so much comes down to domestic innovation,” said Matthew Funaiole, senior fellow at the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington . . A prevalent question in China, Funaiole said, is, “How do we achieve parity with the United States, and what happens next?”
In a January speech conveying Xi’s thinking to top party officials, Chen Yixin, a senior Xi ally, said that “containment and repression from the United States is a major threat, both a clash and a protracted war.”
But he urged party cadres to be confident. “The trend is ‘the East is rising and the West is falling’, and the development of the international situation is favorable to us,” Chen said in a transcript of his remarks.
Hard thinking has also taken hold in Washington, where President Biden has vowed to pursue “extreme competition”, but not conflict, with China and pour investment in transformative technologies.
Biden and his senior advisers have also taken a hard line against China’s tighter control of Hong Kong. Beijing has framed Hong Kong’s fate in nationalist terms and described it as a tug-of-war between China and the West between patriots and subversive, US-backed activists.
A year after the National People’s Congress passed a comprehensive national security law that expanded police power in Hong Kong and paved the way for criminal charges against dozens of activists and former politicians, officials said they should move forward.
Wang Chen, a deputy chairman of the NPC’s standing committee, introduced proposals on Friday to change the “size, composition and formation” of an election committee that elects Hong Kong’s chief executive. The committee would play a role in the appointment and election of members of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, which Wang said would close “clear loopholes and shortcomings” in the current election, allowing for the election of “anti-China, destabilizing elements.”
Carl Minzner, a professor at the Fordham School of Law who specializes in Chinese politics and law, said that by examining candidates for office, the Chinese authorities “dismantle the institutions of electoral democracy and install a version of the stage-controlled one you see in China.” . ”
Minzner predicted several measures to be followed, including changes in Hong Kong courts and a revision of the school curriculum. “There will be a constantly evolving line about the need to get rid of the Western influence of Hong Kong,” he said. “This will be a broad, political rectification not only of Hong Kong’s institutions, but of society itself.”
Shortly after Beijing officials announced the outlines of the change on Friday, Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s CEO, issued a statement that once again struck a nationalist note.
The election changes would “secure the patriots who govern Hong Kong,” Lam said. “Our motherland will forever provide strong support to Hong Kong.”