Following the annual sessions of the National People's Congress (NPC) of China and the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), about 5,000 NPC deputies and CPPCC members have left the capital and gone their separate ways with heavy workloads for the coming year. The direction of the sessions was already clear in advance: the "Four Comprehensives" program provided an outline. Now more detail has been thrashed out, and the practical steps to be taken have become a bit clearer.
For a start, the meetings bore the clear imprint of President Xi Jinping's leadership style. He came across as being very much in personal control. At a time of economic change and intensive reform, the president wished to display a firm grip on the direction of events.
As predicted, emphasis was laid on the management of economic expectations; no one was surprised that the target set for this year's economic growth was "around 7 percent"--it is probably sensible to set an approximate rather than an exact figure, given the uncertainty of the global situation, and one would not wish to see distortions applied to activities at the end of the year in order to hit precisely some arbitrary figure. As has been repeatedly pointed out, slower growth is the new normal, rather than a frenetic pursuit of expansion at all costs.
Quite apart from the continuation of China's internal economic reform, launched by Deng Xiaoping more than 30 years ago, the real challenge is posed by the need to integrate China's economy better with the surrounding world in which it has now become such a major player. The special circumstances of China's emergence from poverty and backwardness have always called for a degree of special treatment; and the speed of that emergence has left the Chinese economy curiously poised between the developed and the developing world, with definite characteristics of both. The difficult task now is to engage with the outside world on equal terms without risking unpalatable shocks to the domestic economy.
A key element here is the planned expansion of the new network of Free Trade Zones launched in September 2013 with a pilot project in Shanghai, which has gone some way to create a logistical and financial interface between the restrictions imposed by China and the outside world. Following the NPC meeting a new zone will be opened in south China's Guangdong Province. This will serve the key objective of facilitating cross-border collaboration, and thereby economic integration, with the two existing special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macao, with the ultimate aim of creating a business environment functioning according to international norms and standards, harnessing the innovative capacity of Guangdong to global financial mechanisms.
China has also taken great steps toward the internationalization of the yuan by preparing a comprehensive system of international payments which, it is hoped, will come into service before the end of 2015.
The other main topic at this year's NPC session was the design of a legislative framework for the internal reforms to which the current leadership is firmly committed. Here the legislature is entering uncharted territory; a clear distinction between the legislative and the administrative process is a new development. It goes hand in hand with the strict disciplinary procedures now brought into force for officials of national and local government and the Communist Party, and the associated anti-corruption campaign. This will most definitely be an extensive program and will probably take several years to implement; legislation is an extremely complex matter in any country, let alone one as large and diverse as China.
However, the advantages of a stable and transparent legal system are obvious: It will greatly benefit economic progress and social stability if it is clear to everybody which activities are permitted and which are not.
An important factor here could be the introduction of new laws relating to land tenure for farmers, such as were announced at the NPC session. Now that farming is no longer a wholly state-owned and state-controlled branch of the economy, clarity over ownership and tenure is vital to motivate the farmers who feed China's 1.3 billion people to work productively and efficiently. China's success has been based on never losing sight of the basic task of ensuring people are fed, whatever spectacular financial and technological improvements may be taking place.
And so the picture emerging from this year's legislative session is that, though China's leading role in the world is now solidly established, the nation will need to ensure that its internal structures are sound enough to endure what is likely to be a lengthy period of transition. None of the NPC deputies and CPPCC members can be in any doubt about the immense amount of work they now have ahead of them.
This article was first published by China.org.cn
The author is a freelance writer on political and economic topics and a retired British diplomat
Copyedited by Kieran Pringle