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John Ross: Two sessions’ impact on global affairs grows

2017-03-07

By: John Ross    Source: Global Times    Published: 2017-3-7


China naturally thinks of its annual two sessions, the National People`s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People`s Political Consultative Conference, as primarily domestic in focus - setting economic targets, defining key laws, assessing government work targets etc. But, the reality is China`s historically unprecedented economic and social development ensures that the two sessions are becoming a major international event watched by a global audience - over 1,500 foreign journalists registered for this year`s final NPC press conference.


The intense international interest in this year`s two sessions reflects a combination of long-term trends in China and the current global uncertainty created by the Trump administration. As the international impact of the two sessions deepens, it is important to analyze the international significance of this year`s two sessions.


Domestically, China`s key goal is to continue creating a "moderately prosperous society in all respects" by 2020. Although this seems to be an issue only concerning China, its international impact becomes immediately clear if international comparisons are made.


In 1949, when the People`s Republic of China was established, China was one of the world`s poorest countries - only 10 countries had a lower per capita GDP. By 2016, on the IMF data, only 29.7 percent of the world`s population, less than one third, lived in countries with higher per capita GDPs than China, while 55.1 percent lived in countries with lower per capita GDPs. In summary, the Communist Party of China is meeting its pledge to achieve China`s "national rejuvenation." There has never before been such a huge shift toward a prosperous economy, affecting so many people, in human history.


If 2020`s targets are achieved, this process will have gone even further. IMF international projections conservatively forecast lower growth rates than China`s targets - an average 6 percent growth in 2017-2020, compared to the 2017 target of 6.5 percent. But, even the IMF data shows that by 2020 only 23 percent of the world`s population will be in countries with a higher per capita GDP than China. Only a handful of developing countries will have a higher per capita GDP than China. In three years, China will have overtaken major countries such as Brazil, and China`s per capita GDP will be higher than several Eastern European countries.


Approximately three years after 2020, China will achieve "high income" economic status by World Bank international classification.


China`s social achievements are even greater. Economists know the average life expectancy is the best indicator of human well-being as it sums up all positive trends (high income, good health care, environmental protection etc.) and negative ones (poverty, poor health care, pollution etc.). Therefore, it is striking China`s social development exceeds its economic expansion. World Bank figures show only 18 percent of the world`s population now lives in countries with a higher life expectancy than China and 63 percent in countries with a lower life expectancy.  


Therefore, while the goal of China achieving moderate prosperity is domestic, it has great international consequences. Achieving this target would further intensify China`s impact among developing countries.


But the international context, reflected in this year`s two sessions, is China`s relations with developed countries. This partly reflects long-term trends - for example, in 2016 China overtook the US as Germany`s largest trading partner.


The Trump administration also impacted the annual plenary meeting. Trump has abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact Japan and Australia spent years negotiating. Numerous developed countries disapproved of Trump`s protectionist statements and his verbal attacks on the EU, Australia and other traditional US allies. Many disapproved of Trump`s phone call with Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen and his initial questioning of the "One China" policy.


Trump retreated from such policies, reaffirming "One China," but also sent out contradictory messages - US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared support for the EU at February`s Munich Security Conference but at the same time, Trump entertained the UK`s anti-EU politician Nigel Farage. Fierce US political establishment infighting over Trump`s alleged Russian links, US media such as The New York Times openly campaigning for the president`s removal and etc., create uncertainty in the future path of US policy, leaving other countries facing unclear, misleading, or contradictory US policies.


China, in contrast, appears stable. Chinese President Xi Jinping`s speech to the Davos World Economic Forum clearly supporting globalization earlier this year was applauded internationally. Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, the most influential Western risk analysis company, noted, "Davos reaction to Xi speech: Success on all counts."


But while China`s overall strategy is clear, other countries wish to carefully assess the likelihood of China successfully achieving a "moderately prosperous society" with all its international ramifications. Hence, the particularly intense international interest in this year`s two sessions.


The author is a senior fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China.


Key Words: two sessions   economy   income   John Ross  

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