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Asia

Sieren's China: More consumption

The Chinese government is not beating about the bush regarding the country's problems. Even if many doubt the figures, premier Li Keqiang has given a rather accurate description of China's weak points, says Frank Sieren.

Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang could have worse problems. China is so successful that the figures he has announced almost seem hard to believe. The country's GDP grew by 6.7 percent last year. That's more than three times more than the US' growth of 1.9 percent. The US only has a quarter of China's population. And China witnessed this growth in a year of turbulence, when worldwide growth and trade were at their weakest in seven years.

In Europe, Brexit and the upcoming elections in France and Germany are gnawing at stability and belief in a strong EU. In the US, Donald Trump is acting like a pubescent teenager who does not yet know how to behave on the international stage, worrying citizens at home as well as the rest of the world.

Regardless of whether the figures are completely accurate, it seems apparent that China is growing in a stable fashion and is taking on a more important role in the global economy. This was already made clear in Chinese President Xi Jinping's speech in Davos at the beginning of the year. Now, the Chinese prime minister has made it clear to the people at home.

Dissatisfaction of middle classes

The government has promised more jobs, better access to medical care, safer food and medicine, as well as better air quality. Li Keqiang has promised that the sky will "become blue again" thanks to the government's plans to cut overcapacity in industry and to transition to more renewable energies, as well as the use of new technologies to determine what is causing most harm to the environment. The question is how long this will all take. It is all supposed to help improve quality of life for 1.3 billion people.

Frank Sieren Kolumnist Handelsblatt Bestseller Autor China (Frank Sieren)

DW columnist Frank Sieren

The dissatisfaction of the rising middle classes is a much bigger problem for the Chinese government than Donald Trump's attacks via Twitter. To attain its goals, China is much more dependent on its own consumers than on US consumers. The more people at home consume, the less dependent China becomes on the rest of the world. The figures that Li has announced might not be completely accurate but the political course he has set is clearer. The government will continue to push progress and growth. People have to feel that the bureaucracy is being dismantled, that they have more money in their pockets through fewer taxes and that there are more options regarding the market and innovation. This is why the government is focusing particularly on small and medium-sized enterprises.

Reviving economy through consumption

So that people can consume more, they need better jobs; they will only get these if they are better educated. This requires time and money. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why there is less emphasis on the arms budget, at a time when much of the world is on fire. Military spending will only account for 1.3 percent of China's GDP this year. In sum, it can be said that the government thinks consumption is more important than weapons.

DW's Frank Sieren has lived in Beijing for over 20 years.

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