(MENAFN- Asia Times) The closing ceremony of the Two Sessions of the National People's Congress and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference on Monday saw President Xi Jinping's next-generation leaders finally enunciated and endorsed on lines that had became public after the 20th Party Congress last October.
Also, the imprint of Xi's uncontested leadership was writ large over these festivities that, among other eloquent eulogies, unanimously re-elected him for his third term as president of the People's Republic of China and chairman of the Central Military Committee.
But apart from Comrade Xi making history by staying in command in spite of China's well-established 10-yearly power transition to the next generation leaders, the significance of the quinquennial Two Sessions (五年一次两会) remains rather critical and deep and must not be overlooked with this inordinate focus on Xi.
During the last decade of Xi's presidency, for example, the Two Sessions have become a major platform for showcasing of China's electoral and consultative democracy at work. This has become especially noticeable as Chinese experts and officials have been trying hard to debunk Western insinuations calling Two Sessions mere rubber stamps that simply sit pretty to endorse all big decisions made during the preceding Party Congress.
They point to the overwhelming attendance in the Two Sessions as well as in scores of small group meetings during these two sessions where deputies deliberate on various work reports and draft plans as also on various nominations to top positions in China's leadership. This, according to them, constitutes China's whole-process people's democracy, the one, that it claims, has delivered better results.
The Chinese also claim their legislators at various levels have superior education levels, representing a whole range of professional sectors including providing due representation to China's minorities. The Communist Party claims it consults with other political parties, however minuscule be their presence in Chinese politics.
Quinquennial Two Sessions
Setting the tone for the deliberations at these quinquennial Two Sessions, Xi's inaugural speech last week saw him reiterate his China Dream of national rejuvenation and call upon the delegates to deliberate on the bolstering China's“national strategic capabilities” to“systematically upgrade the country's overall strength to cope with strategic risks, safeguard strategic interest and realise strategic objectives.”
Also, US government's recent overreaction – in shooting down Chinese weather balloons and Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceling his China visit at the last minute – invited a direct and sharp criticism the United States'“all-around containment, encirclement and suppression of China” from Xi.
Qin Gang. China's new foreign minister, elaborated this last week, invoking threats of a“wolf-warrior discourse trap,” and urged Chinese diplomats to stay ready to“dance with the wolves.”
This saw the Two Sessions raising China's military spending by 7.2%, taking it to US$230 billion for 2023. This was again anticipated in view of Xi's enunciations of making the Chinese military reach“world-class standards” by 2030.
But remember, this budget even now is only around one-fourth of the US defense budget for 2023. Plus, the US enjoys defense alliances with three dozen other advanced industrialized nations, including those of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and its Asian allies Japan and South Korea.
China has also been making projections of becoming world's largest economy by 2030 and calling US policies including its ban on semiconductors aimed at denying such a fait accompli.
This saw outgoing premier Li Keqiang's Government Work Report setting the target for China's economic growth for this year at an ambitious 5% , which may not come easy for an $18 trillion economy and is something that his successor Li Qiang will have to deliver.
The Two Sessions also endorsed Xi's structural reforms geared for China's next stage of development involving better regulation and distribution of wealth, closer connect of man and nature, and prosperity for all.
His call for social and economic transformation saw deputies debate on building a well-off society in an all-around way, unemployment and corruption challenges and protecting China's aging population and other disadvantaged groups negatively affected during the pandemic period.
State Council reforms
Starting from the very apex, the new State Council will be redesigned during the coming weeks. In some ways, it is customary at the beginning of quinquennial Two Sessions that also outline China's focus for next five years.
This usually entails setting up of new ministries, recalibrating their hierarchy, powers and responsibilities, regulatory oversight and recasting their social and financial systems. Some of these structural reforms have attracted great media attention.
If the last such reset in 2018 was any example to go by, the Two Sessions then cut the total number of ministerial level entities by eight and vice-ministerial-level entities by seven while creating seven new ministers and a number of new agencies. One novel experiment this time was the decision to reduce the personnel of all central departments by 5% and relieved officials to be relocated elsewhere to“strengthen key areas and important tasks.”
The State Council Institutional Reform Plan explicated how“scientific and technological innovation occupies a core position in the overall situation of China's modernization drive.” Accordingly, the work of the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) is reorganized by transferring some of its responsibilities to other ministries and by creating the Central Science and Technology Committee (CSTC or 中央科技委员会).
This is to allow the MOST to focus on the macro-management of strategy, planning, system reforms, resource planning, policy regulation and oversight of the CSTC and others related entities.
Along with China's increased focus on science and technology, digital transformation in specific has come to be another major goal of Xi's modernization. The State Council Institutional Reform Plan accordingly underlined that the“digital resources and the digital economy play a fundamental role in economic and social development.”
For this purpose, a new National Data Bureau (NDB) is created to coordinate the utilization of digital resources and promote digital economy. For creating a digital society, the NDB is to subsume the work of Communist Party's Central Cybersecurity Commission as well as some of the data-related functions of the powerful National Development and Reform Commission.
Likewise, in banking and financial regulation reforms as well, the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission is replaced by the new National Financial Regulatory Administration, which will have supervisory responsibility of all financial sectors except for securities which are regulated by the newly created China Securities Regulatory Commission.
This consolidation was much needed as China, and the rest of the world, is set to face the onset of global inflationary and recessionary forces.
Innovation remains another major priority for President Xi and intellectual property has been at the center of China-US brinkmanship. Accordingly, the State Intellectual Property Office is now upgraded and will report directly to the State Council instead of its current reporting to State Administration for Market Regulation.
Xi's China Dream
As was strongly reiterated by Premier Li Qiang's detailed press conference after the closing ceremony of the Two Sessions, President Xi's next-generation team shows strong commitment to move forward with these social and economic reforms toward realizing his China Dream of national rejuvenation.
Among other visible changes, the Two Sessions showed China becoming receptive to paying more attention to public criticism. This saw the Two Sessions restructuring the National Public Complaints and Proposals Administration to strengthen and improve its handling of public petitions, and it will now rank equal other affiliated institutions of the State Council, putting it at par with the taxation office.
In his first press conference as premier, Li Qiang patiently answered a whole range of tough questions from foreign and domestic media detailing China's plans to address challenges of unemployment, aging population and even on China-US tensions, Taiwan and Covid mishandling.
While the premier claimed China's victory over the pandemic and reassured China remaining the most favored nation for foreign investments, most of China's aging-related institutions, such as the Office of the National Working Committee on Ageng or China Association for the Elderly, that were transferred in 2018 to the National Health Commission have now reverted to the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA), which is now to develop a comprehensive inter-ministerial coordination, guidance and supervision of aging-related plans and initiatives.
Finally, the 10-day fervor and festivities of China's quinquennial Two Sessions have ended with the enunciation of Xi and his next-generation leaders. This has also put all debates about Xi's uncontested leadership to rest and seen him and his new team reiterating lofty promises and how they plan to hit the road running.
While the coming few weeks can be treated as their honeymoon period to find their feat in their new responsibilities, the new team will have to begin delivering on their promises.
Both Xi's unprecedented third term in office and China already being an advanced economy now place real tough challenges on the shoulders of Xi's new team who are expected to sustain the magic that Deng Xiaoping's reforms unleashed from the early 1990s.
Follow Swaran Singh on Twitter @SwaranSinghJNU.