China lawmakers have West’s decline on their minds at ‘two sessions’

  • Minutes released from the weekend’s group discussions reveal several mentions of the US and its allies
  • The annual meeting in Beijing is mostly focused on domestic affairs, but Washington is seen as the main source of uncertainty, at home and abroad

China’s annual government report skipped any mention of the United States, but Washington and its allies are definitely on the minds of the Chinese lawmakers meeting in Beijing this week.

While discussions are predominantly focused on domestic affairs, deputies at this year’s National People’s Congress tend to see the West as in decline, according to meeting minutes made available to journalists.

The lawmakers, some of them senior Chinese officials themselves, also see Washington as a main source of domestic and international uncertainties.

The People’s Liberation Army is expected to face “unprecedented” confrontation between major powers, said General Wei Fenghe, China’s minister of defence, in a Sunday discussion at the NPC.

“Against the backdrop of the decline of the West and the rise of the East, confrontation between major powers is unprecedented and we need to focus on responding to containment and suppression from the outside,” he said.

Wei added that China’s national security would be in a period of “high pressure” and “high risks” in the long term.

The officials spoke of a “turbulent world” – a view reflected in China’s plans to increase defence spending by 7.1 per cent this year, the fastest pace since 2019, announced on Saturday.

Qi Yu, party boss at the foreign ministry, said global uncertainties required China to ramp up its diplomatic spending. “It’s necessary for international struggle now, it’s also a strategic investment,” he told the NPC’s Tianjin group on Monday.

“It could help facilitate the trend of ‘the East rises, the West declines” and could help our country shape a new global order and improve our international environment.”

Diplomacy did see a budget increase in its annual finance report, also released on Saturday, but at 2.4 per cent it was dwarfed by defence and the 4.7 per cent increase for public security.

The focus on alertness against the US and its allies is an indication that China is looking increasingly inward. The annual government report, delivered by Premier Li Keqiang on Saturday, skipped all mention of trade relations with the US and Europe, in a clear departure from past practice.

Throughout the annual political gathering of lawmakers and advisers, senior Chinese officials, including President Xi Jinping, have fed the narrative that China is in good order while other countries are stumbling with their difficulties.

“The contrast between the orderly governance of China and the chaos of the West has grown more notable,” Xi told members of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference on Sunday.

The tensions with Western countries have even appeared occasionally in discussions of domestic issues, with some calling out the US by name, according to the released minutes.

In another Sunday group discussion, Zhang Rongshun, deputy director of Beijing’s liaison office in Macau, hailed China’s economic performance as “the best response to containment conducted by the United States and the West”.

Also on Sunday, Luo Baoming, former party boss of the southernmost island province Hainan, said the United States was conducting an “all-round suppression” on China, while also celebrating last year’s economic performance.

Guangdong provincial party boss Li Xi, who sits on the 25-strong Politburo, praised his province in southern China for “steadily handling influence by the Sino-US trade war” and mitigating various risks.

Conciliatory remarks on China’s ties with the world were rare but not totally absent.
Fu Ying, former foreign vice-minister who now focuses heavily on track two diplomacy with the US, called for the nurturing of a “stable external environment” during the Inner Mongolia group’s Sunday discussion.

“[We] must ensure our external environment is not overturned or sabotaged, so that we can complete the tasks of domestic development in a relatively peaceful and stable environment in the future,” she said.

Author: Jun Mai, SCMP

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