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Asia

Sieren's China: Sober, but confident

The Chinese prime minister gives a press conference once a year. Li Keqiang did not sound like a person going under, says DW’s Frank Sieren.

It may not be a democracy yet, but it is a sign that the man is sitting more firmly in his seat than some would like to believe. Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang scored the highest approval ratings since 2006 at the People's Congress that came to a close on Wednesday. Only 14 delegates voted against the annual work report, with eight abstaining. Last year, there were twice as many dissenting voices. This is a start. The atmosphere at the press conference was suitably sober, but also confident with regard to the problems faced and by no means dissatisfied with what has been achieved so far.

There were no strident tones, no nationalism, no populism to serve as diversions from China's problems - nothing intended for the ears of South Korea, Japan or the US. The prime minister did not avoid mentioning existing differences, saying that they should be discussed but that was it. The overall message was that China would continue on its path, perhaps more slowly than expected, but in a constant, confident manner. Keqiang signaled that there would be less bureaucracy and fewer taxes, fewer state-run companies and more small and medium-sized enterprises, more service industry, more market and consumption - so as to maintain the stable, if not heady, growth. 

Concern about increase of debts

The Chinese prime minister was particularly proud of the fact that growth would be reached without having to resort to huge investment programs. However, he did admit that he was worried about the increase in debts. So he should be. Nonetheless, at least China does not have debts abroad, like the US. It seems that the Chinese government has taken the right direction even it if is debatable whether progress is as fast as it claims. Skepticism is justified. However, Western observers should not forget that China contributes over 30 percent to global economic growth. The US, for its part, contributes 9.5 percent and the EU only 6.2 percent.

Frank Sieren *PROVISORISCH* (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Tirl)

DW's Frank Sieren

It's a comfortable position from which to launch reforms, especially considering that average per capita income is lower than in Romania. There is plenty of potential for growth, which is not the case in the EU and the US. Gradually, the West is beginning to understand that despite its problems China is the world's second most powerful economy and the new driving force of globalization. This will of course have political implications. In response to a question regarding China's expectations from the new US government, the prime minister hit the nail on the head: He said that Beijing did not want a trade war. "That would not make trade fairer," he pointed out. He added that there was a bright future for US-China relations. "This relationship is crucial not just for China and the US but also for regional and global peace and security."

How to deal with North Korea?

This set the tone ahead of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's first official visit to China this weekend, where North Korea will be top of the agenda. Li Keqiang called for all parties to return to the negotiating table: "No one wants to see chaos on his doorstep."

He also sent out a message to Chinese companies that stability and reliability were important. He announced that the government would cut corporate taxes and by 1 trillion yuan ($144 billion, 135 billion euros). "To cut down fees, the government must tighten its belt," he said.

This means cutting general expenditures by over 5 percent. This will be interesting to watch. The population will keep the government to its word. The state, at the same time, is going to have to deep dig deep into its pockets to support the 850,000 people who lost their jobs last year and the million more expected to become jobless when more state-run companies close. Li Keqiang himself has admitted that this will not be easy.

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

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