Premier puts the accent on reform

Updated: 2014-03-06 02:10

By ZHAO HUANXIN (China Daily)

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Li announces sweeping package, saying change has brought the greatest benefits

Premier Li Keqiang placed the emphasis firmly on reform as he delivered the Government Work Report at the opening of the annual legislative session in Beijing on Wednesday. He promised to cut red tape, make China a magnet for foreign investment and steer "the giant ship of China's economy" on a smooth course.

Li mentioned the word "reform" a record 77 times in his 100-minute speech, in which he said the economic growth target for 2014 will be about 7.5 percent, unchanged from the goal set for last year, when the economy grew by 7.7 percent.

"Reform has brought us the greatest benefits," Li said. "Reform is the top priority for the government. We must rely fully on the people and break mental shackles and vested interests to deepen reforms on all fronts."

He said reform will focus on the areas where it is most needed and on the most pressing problems.

Li said the government plans this year to either scrap or delegate to lower-level authorities another 200 items requiring administrative approval. This follows 416 that were canceled or delegated to lower tiers of government last year.

Private investment will be approved for some projects in State-dominated areas such as banking, oil, electricity, railways, telecommunications, resources development and public utilities.

The premier also said the property rights system will be improved to ensure that such rights are inviolable in the public and non-public sectors.

The sweeping reform package also includes measures for China to enter a new phase of opening-up.

"Opening-up and reform have been launched as integral parts of the same initiative, as they are mutually reinforcing," Li said. "We will foster a new open-economy system and advance a new round of opening-up to embrace the international market."

This will lead to deeper reform and structural adjustment and help enhance competition, he added.

The country will open up more service sectors to foreign capital, encourage imports and level the playing field for Chinese and foreign companies to compete on fair terms, ensuring that China remains a top choice for foreign investment, Li said.From page 1

"We will open China's inland and border areas wider to the outside world and turn these broad areas into hot spots for opening-up," he said.

To shift growth to a more sustainable model, China will make consumer spending the main engine driving growth and view investment as being key to maintaining stable growth, Li said.

Reform measures are also planned for areas including agriculture, urbanization, healthcare, education and environmental protection.

Chi Fulin, head of the China Institute for Reform and Development, a think tank, said the reform policies and opening-up measures highlighted in Li's report will be a boon to foreign investors.

"The premier's emphasis on a level playing field, further opening tertiary industry and breaking the monopoly in State-dominated areas is good news for domestic and foreign business communities," Chi told China Daily. He said the developments in China will help speed the global economic recovery.

Liu Hanjun, editor-in-chief of Party Building, a leading magazine launched by the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, said Li's speech echoes the theme of an ambitious reform agenda announced in November at the Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee.

"The premier has demonstrated his resolve in the Government Work Report and outlined measures to push through the reforms," Liu said.

Zhu Haibin, chief China economist at JPMorgan, said he believes the key features for China's economic policy this year center on the balance between near-term growth stabilization and structural reforms.

On the reform front, developments this year, the first year of the new grand reform program, will be watched closely, Zhu said.

"In this regard, the premier highlighted that the priority task this year is structural reforms," he said.

Wang Haifeng, a researcher at the Institute for International Economic Research under the National Development and Reform Commission, said the GDP growth target of 7.5 percent this year will help boost market confidence and stabilize expectations.

Improved developed economies will help China meet the growth target, Wang said. "But we need to be cautious about the potential risks in emerging economies."

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Chen Jia and Hu Yuanyuan contributed to this story.