China’s new premier Li Qiang sought to reassure the country’s private sector on Monday, saying it would improve the environment for entrepreneurial enterprises and equal treatment would be given to all types of companies.
Li, a former head of the Shanghai Communist Party, was sworn in as prime minister on Saturday during the annual session of China’s National People’s Congress and is tasked with reviving the world’s second-largest economy after three years of COVID-19 restrictions.
In his public debut at a press conference, President Xi Jinping’s close ally said China will take measures to boost employment and urged decision-makers at all levels to “make friends” with entrepreneurs.
“Developing the economy is the fundamental solution to creating jobs,” Li, 63, said at the Great Hall of the People in central Beijing after the parliamentary session closed.
Li faces challenges such as weak consumer confidence and private industry, weak export demand and worsening relations with the United States.
A career bureaucrat in some of China’s most economically thriving regions, Li referred to his record with the private sector, which has been rocked in recent years by a broad regulatory campaign of sectors such as internet platforms and private education.
“Last year there were some incorrect comments about the development of the private economy, which worried some businessmen,” Li said in his televised address, without elaborating.
“Entrepreneurs or private companies will enjoy a better environment and a wider space for their development. (…) We will create a level playing field for all types of market entities and do more to support private entrepreneurs to grow and thrive.”
At the opening of the annual parliamentary session, China set a GDP growth target of around 5 percent, its lowest target in nearly three decades, after the economy grew just 3 percent last year.
Reaching the goal will not be easy, at a time when China is facing many difficulties this year, Li said.
Li replaces Li Keqiang, who retired after two five-year terms in which he was increasingly marginalized as Xi tightened his grip on the economy.
Investors hope the new premier’s close ties to Xi will allow him to push for more business-friendly policies.
At less than 90 minutes, Li’s press conference was shorter than the annual sessions held in recent years by his predecessor, which could exceed two hours.
‘GREAT STEEL WALL’
Earlier, Xi said Monday that China needs security to develop and must modernize its military into a “Great Steel Wall.”
Xi was speaking for the first time since the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament, voted unanimously to confirm him for a third term as China’s precedent-setting president.
“Security is the foundation of development, stability is the prerequisite for prosperity,” said Xi, 69.
The ruling Communist Party is expected to tighten the party’s oversight of security, a move that comes after Xi replaced senior security officials with his trusted allies.
Xi said China will distribute the fruits of development more equitably, in an effort to achieve “common prosperity,” its flagship policy of reducing the wealth gap through measures such as asking private enterprises to collaborate.
China must achieve greater self-sufficiency and strength in science and technology, Xi said, a call that comes as the United States blocks China’s access to chip-making equipment and other cutting-edge technologies.
On Taiwan, the self-governing island that China claims as its own and a major producer of semiconductors, Xi said China must oppose independence and secessionist activities and interference from outside forces.
China’s relations with the United States deteriorated dramatically after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August 2022. Following the visit, China conducted unprecedented military exercises around Taiwan and halted military dialogue with Washington.