Finance

China’s annual parliamentary meeting has ended. Here are the key takeaways

A Chinese flag flutters on top of the Great Hall of the People ahead of the opening ceremony of the Belt and Road Forum (BRF), to mark 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative, in Beijing, China October 18, 2023.
Edgar Su | Reuters

BEIJING — China’s weeklong annual parliamentary meetings ended on Monday and for the first time in decades, the Chinese premier did not host a press conference.

In a break with tradition, the premier will no longer hold a press conference following this year’s parliamentary meetings — at least for the rest of the term, according to an official announcement last week.

Such press conferences were a rare instance of press interaction with the highest levels of China’s government.

President Xi Jinping did not speak at the closing ceremony. He typically speaks only at the closing ceremonies of the first session of each National People’s Congress, the nation’s highest authority which is elected every five years. This year is the second session of the 14th National People’s Congress.

To be clear, the annual gathering of the top leadership is typically ceremonial in nature. The real power lies with the ruling Communist Party, which is headed by Xi, who is general secretary of the party and president of China.

Still, announcements made during the Congress can shed some light on government policy.

Here are some highlights of what was announced at this year’s week-long parliamentary meeting, which started Tuesday last week and ended Monday.

Environment

“Along with the extensive discussions on environmental protection, the Government Work Report (GWR) explicitly pledged to lower energy consumption per unit of GDP by around -2.5% in 2024,” Citi analysts pointed out in a report Sunday.

The report “didn’t set such numeric targets in 2022-23, after the -3.0% target and ‘campaign-style’ execution led to the power outages in 2021,” the analysts said.

But they warned that investors “need to be mindful of the growth risks arising again from potential environmental policy tightening.”

Economic focus on manufacturing

China has set a 2024 growth target of around 5%, Premier Li Qiang at the start of the meetings on Tuesday when he released the much-anticipated government work report.

Industrial support clearly ranked first on Beijing’s priority list for the year ahead, according to three major plans released as part of the parliamentary meetings.

The top economic planner also noted how a push to upgrade equipment would generate a market of more than 5 trillion yuan (about $694.5 billion).

Real estate, in contrast, received less emphasis.

However, the Minister of Housing and Urban-Rural Development said property developers “that must go bankrupt should go bankrupt.” In a press conference on Saturday, Ni Hong warned that those who “harm the interests of the masses” will be probed and punished.

State Council changes

The Chinese Communist Party has increased its oversight of the government under Xi.

At the 2023 parliamentary meeting, Beijing announced an overhaul of finance and tech regulation by establishing party-led commissions to oversee the two sectors. Xi also gained an unprecedented third term as president at last year’s meeting.

This year, the National People’s Congress rubber stamped changes to revise the structure of the State Council, which has been the government’s top executive body led by the premier. At the ceremonial closing on Monday, the amended State Council Organic Law passed with 2,883 delegate votes — with eight rejecting the amendments and nine abstentions.

The changes include vice premiers and the head of the People’s Bank of China among the council’s top leadership group.

It was not immediately clear what impact such changes would have.

— CNBC’s Clement Tan contributed to this story.

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