Talk of the Town
Premier Li Keqiang’s Government Work Report delivered on March 5 - his final Work Report after his two five year terms in the job - made a number of references to the Belt and Road and official media coverage in the days following Li’s speech showed a number of ways Belt and Road - broadly interpreted - is being understood in the context of the government’s priorities for 2021.
Though the Government Work Report is primarily domestic focused, BRI received mention in both the review of 2021 and look ahead to 2022 sections of the report. In total it received three direct mentions, very similar to 2021 and 2020. A firm focus in this year’s report was on “constructing a high quality Belt and Road”, which, according to Li, achieved “steady progress” in 2021 and remain a major focus for 2022. This has been a consistent focus and framing of the Belt and Road since the 2nd Belt and Road Forum in Feb 2019, though was more strongly referenced in this year’s report than in the past two years.
This year’s Work Report also saw reference to a new initiative, the Global Development Initiative (GDI), launched by Xi Jinping at the UN General Assembly in September last year. As we have noted previously, the GDI has been cropping up in almost all of China’s major foreign relations related moments since then and, though details remain scant, is worth keeping an eye on.
In terms of specific BRI work results in 2021, Premier Li mentioned five main achievements: the “deepening of practical cooperation” on BRI; the “stable performance in foreign trade and investment”; the successful holding of a number of trade related events such as the China International Import Expo and the Canton Fair; the addition of four new comprehensive trial projects for the services sector; and the launch of the Hainan Free Trade Zone.
Readers will notice that most of these achievements are in fact much more relevant to the domestic than external sphere, and are focused more on attracting investments than investments “going out”. This is an indication both that China’s priorities in 2022 are the stability of the domestic economy, for which trade and foreign capital are sorely needed, and that the Chinese government's definition of BRI is far broader than just the investments and infrastructure projects overseas that receive the lion’s share of media attention. In many ways, Belt and Road encompasses China’s vision of globalization in the 21st century, and the country’s own place and role within that process, including its own economic development.
Looking forward to 2022, Premier Li highlighted as priority work areas on the BRI:
“We will promote high-quality cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative. We remain committed to the principle of achieving shared growth through consultation and collaboration.”
“We will deepen multilateral and bilateral economic and trade cooperation…We will encourage enterprises to make good use of preferential tariff treatment, cumulation of origin, and other rules under the RCEP framework to expand cooperation on trade and investment.”
“We will…expand the coverage of export credit insurance for micro, small and medium foreign trade firms, strengthen export credit support, refine foreign exchange services, expedite the process for export rebates, and help foreign trade enterprises receive orders and maintain production.”
“We will make greater use of foreign investment. We will see that the negative list for foreign investment is fully observed and ensure national treatment for all foreign-invested enterprises. We will encourage foreign-invested enterprises to move into a broader range of sectors, and support more foreign investment in medium- and high-end manufacturing, R&D, and modern services, as well as in the central, western and northeastern regions.”