China has challenged the U.S.-led international order while pushing ahead with authoritarian rule under the one-party reign of the Communist Party by using economic growth as the driving force. Such a policy may be facing problems amid the crisis caused by the novel coronavirus.
China deferred announcing a growth rate target for its gross domestic product at the session of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s parliament, that has started in Beijing. Premier Li Keqiang pointed out in his speech that the economic and trade situations are very uncertain and China’s development is facing some unpredictable factors.
It is extremely unusual for a growth rate target not to be mentioned in a government work report at the NPC. At this point in time, it is likely that the Chinese government can’t predict the extent to which it will be able to restore economic activities. This starkly illustrates the great blow dealt to the country by the coronavirus calamity.
The Xi Jinping administration had aimed to achieve a goal of eradicating rural poverty by realizing economic growth of around 6%, making this year’s GDP double the level marked 10 years ago. It can be said that its strategy to strengthen its political foundation — ahead of the 100-year anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party next year — has suffered a major setback.
Li expressed a policy of bolstering the economy and stabilizing employment opportunities through massive fiscal stimulus. The stagnation of the Chinese economy will have repercussions on the entire world. Comprehensive policies are needed to curb an increase in the number of unemployed people and restore production and demand.
What is hard to understand is the fact that China firmly maintains its policy of military expansion even under the current circumstances. This year’s defense spending is set at 1.268 trillion yuan (about ¥19.2 trillion), up 6.6% from the previous year, increasing such spending by more than 10 times over the past 20 years.
The move gives a glimpse of the Xi administration’s intention of stirring patriotism among the people to increase its unifying force as the military and economic confrontation with the United States intensifies.
Moreover, China has continued its provocative military activities in the East and South China Seas. Also, after Australia criticized Beijing’s policy regarding the coronavirus, China took the measure of imposing additional tariffs on barley from the country.
It can’t be overlooked that China made such a move to escalate confrontation with other countries at a time when international cooperation is required to deal with the infectious disease. China’s attempts to pressure countries into accepting its assertions by exhibiting its power are likely to create adverse effects on its relations with other countries in the future.
The NPC meeting began after being postponed for 2½ months due to the coronavirus pandemic. Even though the spread of infections in China has not yet been brought to an end, the authority assembled thousands of local representatives and others in the capital as seen in previous years. Li trumpeted in his remarks that major strategic achievements have been made in China’s response to the infections.
He apparently aimed to emphasize the superior position of the Communist regime, impressing people with the idea that the situation has been put back to normal. However, what China should do, first and foremost, is fully disclose information regarding the infectious disease and take a cooperative stance toward other countries.
— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on May 23, 2020.