Premier Li Keqiang’s Written Interview with Russian News Agency TASS
On 15 September 2019, Premier Li Keqiang gave Russian News Agency TASS a written interview on the eve of his official visit to the Russian Federation and the 24th regular meeting between the Chinese and Russian heads of government. The full text of the interview runs as follows:
Q1. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Russia. China-Russia relations have entered a new era. Mr. Premier, how do you evaluate the progress of the bilateral ties in the past seven decades? What is your expectation for this relationship going forward?
Li: I am delighted to be visiting the Russian Federation on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of China-Russia diplomatic relations. I will be making an official visit and attend the 24th regular meeting between the Chinese and Russian heads of government at the invitation of Prime Minister Medvedev. China and Russia are each other’s biggest neighbors. The bilateral relationship has come a long way in the past 70 years. It has grown increasingly stable, mature and resilient, and is now at its best in history. In keeping with the prevailing trend of the world, we have pioneered a new type of state-to-state relationship featuring non-alliance, non-confrontation and non-targeting at any third party. Taking relations with each other as a priority in our external relations, we have developed a full range of mechanisms for high-level engagement and cross-sector cooperation. We have conducted practical cooperation of rich substance and strategic significance. Our all-dimensional, deep-going and multi-tiered cooperation has delivered bountiful benefits to people of both countries. As founding members of the United Nations and permanent members of the UN Security Council, China and Russia have engaged in close coordination on international affairs and actively fulfilled our responsibilities as underpinning forces for world peace and stability.
During President Xi Jinping’s successful state visit last June, China-Russia relationship was elevated to the comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era. In face of the shifting dynamics in the international environment, China-Russia relations have come to a new starting point with new opportunities, new tasks and new challenges. China stands ready to work with Russia to advance with the times and break new grounds in jointly sustaining and growing our bilateral ties. The two sides need to consolidate strategic trust and enhance mutual support to firmly keep the bilateral relations on the right track, free from external disturbances. We need to harness our comparative strengths to enhance the synergy between the Belt and Road Initiative and the Eurasian Economic Union, and expand the convergence of interests to cement the material foundation for our relations. We need to carry forward the traditional friendship, strengthen mutual learning, and develop closer people-to-people ties. We need to firmly uphold the UN-centered international system anchored by international law, and jointly build a new type of international relations and a community with a shared future for mankind to safeguard world peace, stability, fairness and justice.
The 70th anniversary of China-Russia relations is both a milestone and a new start. The time-tested China-Russia relationship, driven by common aspirations and shared interests, is brimming with vigor and vitality. I am confident that, with joint efforts, our comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era will score new achievements and make greater contribution to the development and renewal of our two countries and to the prosperity and tranquility of the world.
Q2. The regular meeting between the Chinese and Russian heads of government is an important mechanism providing overall guidance to the practical cooperation between the two countries. How will this mechanism catalyze greater progress of the bilateral cooperation in the new era? What will be the priority areas? What new measures will be taken?
Li: The regular meeting between the Chinese and Russian heads of government is one of the first cooperation mechanisms China established with other countries. The fact that such meetings have so far been successfully held 23 times speaks volumes about the sophistication of our bilateral ties and practical cooperation. In the past 23 years, this mechanism has grown from strength to strength, playing an ever-stronger role in planning, coordinating and advancing our bilateral cooperation.
China and Russia see in each other an important cooperation partner for shared progress and prosperity, and we take expanding practical cooperation and shared interests as an overarching goal of our comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era. By leveraging our comparative strengths for mutual benefit, we have succeeded in pushing forward cooperation in both traditional sectors and emerging industries, and achieved an uplift in both quantity and quality. Last year, two-way trade surged by 27.1%, breaking the US$100 billion mark for the first time. China has been Russia’s top trading partner for nine years running, and is also Russia’s largest source of imports and destination for exports. In the first half of this year, the bilateral trade and investment maintained brisk growth, boding well for a broad prospect of our practical cooperation. Such performance has truly been a hard-won achievement given the downturn in global trade and investment. The two countries are making solid progress in strategic cooperation in energy, aviation, space and connectivity. Major projects such as the eastern route of the natural gas pipeline, the Nizhneleninskoye-Tongjiang Railway Bridge and the Blagoveshchensk-Heihe Highway Bridge are nearing completion. Cooperation in new areas including agriculture, finance, science and technology, and e-commerce is flourishing. Sub-national cooperation is deepening and expanding. It is fair to say that China-Russia practical cooperation, with its fruitful outcomes, has contributed to the well-being of both peoples and to the growth of the world economy.
During my visit, the two sides will take stock of the progress made and plan for the future in a bid to raise the bilateral practical cooperation to a higher level. The two sides will continue to follow an innovative and multi-pronged approach to open up new areas and unlock new potentials of cooperation. Committed to greater two-way openness, the two sides will expand investment and market access to create more opportunities for the business communities. We will continue to leverage the role of large and medium-sized companies as the main force to advance major strategic projects, and attract small and medium-sized firms to the cooperation in emerging industries such as e-commerce and the digital economy to drive sustained growth of the bilateral cooperation. The two sides will continue to expand technological cooperation. Both China and Russia have built a solid foundation for innovation, and are pursuing innovation-driven development. We have designated the years of 2020 and 2021 “Year of Scientific and Technological Innovation” in each other’s countries. We will use this opportunity to integrate China’s industrial, capital and market advantages with Russia’s strengths in resource, technology and talent to lend new impetus to our economic and social progress. I am confident that with the joint efforts of the two governments and business communities, China-Russia practical cooperation will achieve more fruitful results and deliver greater benefits to people of the two countries in the new era.
Q3. Some observers have noted a slowdown in China’s growth in recent years. Do you see this as a threat to the rising living standards of the Chinese people? Is there any “red line” for the slowdown of GDP growth? Will China adjust its social and economic development plan amid such a complex situation?
Li: After decades of high-speed growth, China’s GDP reached US$13.6 trillion last year, accounting for nearly 16% of the global economy. The projected targets for China’s economic development this year include 6-6.5% of growth in GDP, around 5.5% of surveyed urban unemployment and around 3% of CPI increase. The first eight months saw overall stability and steady progress in China’s economic performance. In the first half of this year, GDP grew by 6.3% year-on-year, major economic indicators were consistent with expectations and maintained within a proper range, the economic structure continued to improve, and positive factors for high-quality development increased. In today’s complex international environment, it is no mean feat for China to sustain a medium-high growth of above 6% on top of such a large base. This growth speed is among the highest in the major economies.
The Chinese government takes economic development as the central task and works to better ensure and improve people’s well-being in the process of development. Despite a slower growth and increased fiscal constraints in recent years, government spending in meeting essential livelihood needs has kept expanding, delivering continued improvement in people’s lives.
First, we have kept personal income growth basically in step with economic growth. China’s per capita GDP has reached nearly US$10,000. People’s per capita disposable income has grown by over 7% on average annually. The urban-rural income gap has continuously narrowed. By the end of last year, rural poor population had dropped to 16.6 million and we expect to achieve the goal of making abject poverty history in China next year.
Second, we have ensured overall stability in employment. Employment is of paramount importance to people’s lives. The Chinese government puts stable employment high on its agenda and its efforts to maintain steady growth are primarily aimed at ensuring employment. When there is relatively full employment, steady income increase and improvement in the environment, we can well live with some fluctuations of growth speed relative to our projected target. We are implementing an employment-first policy and taking a wide range of measures to ensure and expand employment. Over 13 million new urban jobs have been created each year in the past six years, and the surveyed urban unemployment rate nationwide has been kept at around 5%, a relatively low level. China, a major developing country with close to 1.4 billion people, has achieved fairly full employment.
Third, we have enhanced social security and accelerated the development of social undertakings involving education, medical care, aged care, culture and sports. We have kept budgetary spending on education at above 4% of GDP. We have put in place the world’s largest social safety net and kept raising the subsistence allowance in urban and rural areas and assistance benefits for entitled groups. The life expectancy of the Chinese people has reached 77 years and they now lead a much better and more fulfilling life.
That said, China’s economy also faces certain downward pressure due to the slowing global growth and rising protectionism and unilateralism. Yet China’s economy has tremendous resilience, potential and flexibility. First, the huge domestic market will unleash continued demand to drive growth. China is both a “world factory” and a “world market”. Its consumer spending is upgrading at a faster pace, and there is massive investment demand in infrastructure development and technological transformation of enterprises. The expanding domestic demand has become a strong underpinning for China’s economy in withstanding external shocks.
Second, deepening reform and opening-up will further energize the economy. China is making great efforts to advance market-oriented reform and expand opening-up, with a focus on fostering a more enabling and market-based business environment governed by a sound legal framework. There are over 110 million market entities in China and more than 19,000 businesses get registered every day on average. The passion among the hundreds of millions of Chinese people for career advances and entrepreneurial success provides an inexhaustible driving force for development. In the meantime, foreign investment in China has maintained steady growth.
Third, ample means and capabilities for macro regulation at our disposal will help to foster a stable environment for development. In face of the downward economic pressure over the past few years, the Chinese government has refused to flood the economy with massive stimulus. Instead, we have developed new and improved approaches to macro regulation, kept a fairly low debt-to-GDP ratio, and preserved policy space for tackling potential risks.
In response to the new developments in the economic situation, the Chinese government will, while keeping the macro policies consistent and stable, properly employ counter-cyclical regulatory tools. We will execute large-scale tax and fee cuts, increase the use of special bonds, lower financing costs and encourage business start-ups and innovation so as to strengthen the foundation for the micro economy. The Chinese government has full confidence and ability in overcoming the risks and challenges and maintaining steady and sound economic development.