Bloomberg News: There’s probably not been as much suspicion and competition in the relationship since ties began some 40 years ago. How would you describe the current state of US-China ties? What’s your outlook for the relationship? And also, if you could address some specific issues on trade, what kind of deal would China accept, and what kind would China not accept? And on technology, would China force Chinese technology companies to help spy?
Premier Li: I would like to say that China-US relationship has been forging ahead in the past four decades. And a great deal has been accomplished in the growth of this relationship. At the same time, it is true that the relationship has also gone through some twists and turns. But the underlying trend is for the relationship to go forward, and this has not changed. This is because there are broad common interests between China and the US. And the shared interests far outweigh the differences. Steady growth of China-US relationship is in the interest of both countries. It’s also something good for the whole world. So I expect this relationship to continue forging ahead despite twists and turns. And that should be the underlying trend going forward.
While maintaining the overall stability of China-US relations, we have also seen problems and difficulties appear from time to time. In the past weeks and months, one prominent difficulty in China-US relationship lies in their economic and trade friction. The two countries have been in consultation the whole time. Last year, during the G20 Summit, the presidents of the two countries reached important common understandings. Consultations between the two sides are still ongoing. We hope that good outcomes will be delivered out of those consultations, outcomes that work for both sides and are a win-win. I believe that such a result is also what the whole world would like to see.
China and the US, as two large economies, have become closely entwined through years of development and cooperation. It is neither realistic nor possible to decouple these two economies. I believe we need to follow the principles of cooperation instead of confrontation, mutual respect, equality, and mutual benefit, to continue to grow China-US relationship, including economic and trade ties, and to deliver concrete benefits to people of both countries. As for the differences and disagreements, we have the confidence that people of the two countries have the wisdom and capability to defuse and manage them properly, and to pursue steady and sound growth of China-US relationship in keeping with the trend of our time.
You asked whether the Chinese government will ask Chinese companies to “spy” on other countries. Let me tell you explicitly that this is not consistent with Chinese law. This is not how China behaves. China did not and will not do that in the future.
Xinhua News Agency: The year 2018 marked the 40th anniversary of China’s reform and opening-up, putting China’s reform at a new starting point. There have been new hopes, both at home and abroad, for China to accelerate its reform agenda. What concrete actions will be taken to deepen reform this year? What specific measures will be adopted to improve China’s business environment?
Premier Li: Through 40 years of reform and opening-up, China has made remarkable achievements, delivering benefits to its entire population. We intend to stay on this path and will pursue our reform at greater depth and breadth. We will continue to develop our socialist market economy, and pursue market-oriented reforms.
The government will continue to move forward these reforms in accordance with market principles and the law, to ensure that concrete outcomes will be delivered through specific actions. In carrying out reform, the government must create an enabling environment for the market to play its decisive role in allocating resources. The job of the government is not to direct what the market should or should not do, but to do its best to energize all market players. During this year’s “Two Sessions”, I have heard the hope expressed by many NPC deputies and CPPCC members for a better business environment in China. They told me that if there is a more enabling business environment and a level playing field, the market will be in a stronger position to play its role. Over the years, through the reform of government functions, we have made substantial progress in improving our business environment. This has also been evidenced by the fact that China’s global ranking in terms of ease of doing business run by an important international organization moved up by over 30 spots last year. There has been improvement, but we are still falling short in some respects. We must listen closely to the views expressed by market players and do our level best to foster a better business environment to unlock market vitality and creativity of the people.
When improving the business environment, efforts will be made in both deregulation and oversight. By deregulation, we will ensure that companies of all types of ownership will stand to benefit as equals from our measures of administrative streamlining, including cutting the time required for companies to get business license or other required licenses and permits. There should be no discriminatory practices. For example, through years of efforts, we have cut the time required to get a business license from 22 days to 8.5 days. This year, our goal is to further cut it to five days, and in some places with better conditions, maybe three days. It only takes one day to get a business license in some developed countries. When I visited some local areas, I heard complaints from business owners, telling me that even with a business license, they still face a myriad of requirements for other types of permits, that is, their companies can be up but not actually running. We plan to ensure that except for those areas involving public safety and security and other special sectors, a business license should be enough for a company to be up and running. For government departments, their job should be focused on enhancing compliance oversight, to see what permits are required, and ban non-compliant and disqualified companies from the market.
With lower market thresholds, there must be tightened oversight. There should be fair access to market and impartial regulation. With laxity in regulation on the part of government, malpractices such as cheating and manipulation, infringements of intellectual property, making and selling of fake or substandard goods, or payment arrears, may be left unchecked. I have heard complaints from CPPCC members during this year’s “Two Sessions” about difficulties in seeking legal redress and getting debts repaid due to inadequate oversight. We must make the rules open and transparent, so that market players are fully aware of the dos and don’ts. We must not exercise selective or arbitrary regulation. We must put in place effective institutional arrangements for both deregulation and oversight.
It can be said that the tax and fee cuts, together with administrative streamlining and impartial regulation, are two very important parts of our measures to counter the downward economic pressure and boost market vitality. The purpose is to ensure steady and sustained growth of the Chinese economy, and make it full of vigor and vitality.
ETV Today of Taiwan: Early this year, President Xi Jinping gave an important speech at the Meeting Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the Issuance of the Message to Compatriots in Taiwan and that important speech received close attention from people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. My question is: how will the mainland implement the policies and propositions set out in that important speech, in particular, to promote the common development of the two sides of the Taiwan Strait and improve the well-being of people on both sides?
Premier Li: Indeed, early this year, General Secretary Xi Jinping gave an important speech at the Meeting Commemorating the 40th Anniversary of the Issuance of the Message to Compatriots in Taiwan. In the important speech, he articulated our principles and policies on the Taiwan question. We will continue to adhere to the one-China principle and the 1992 Consensus, and oppose Taiwan independence. We will continue to work to promote peaceful growth of cross-Strait relations and the peaceful reunification of our motherland.
People on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are bound by kinship. We intend to introduce more preferential policies toward our compatriots in Taiwan to ensure that they will enjoy the same treatment as mainlanders when they come to work, study, live and do business on the mainland. Previously, we introduced 31 measures for promoting cross-Strait economic and cultural exchanges. These measures must be fully delivered. In this process, new measures should be introduced as well. When people on both sides of the Strait enjoy the same development opportunities and come closer to each other, the cross-Strait relationship will grow stronger and make more solid progress. We need to work hand in hand to realize our shared dream of national renewal.
People’s Daily: Last year, some companies have started to trim staff. Some Chinese and foreign-invested firms have started to relocate their businesses overseas. We have also heard complaints by companies about a shortage of skilled workers. My question is: what measures will the government adopt to resolve these problems?
Premier Li: Indeed, in China’s modernization process, there will always be tremendous employment pressure. In recent years, on average, some 15 million new entrants entered the labor force each year, and that number will not decrease in the foreseeable future. In addition, we also need to provide job opportunities for several million rural migrant workers every year. This year we plan to create another 11 million or more new urban jobs. And in actual practice, our goal is to generate the same amount of job opportunities as we did last year, that is, over 13 million. You may have also noticed, this year for the first time, we are elevating the status of jobs-first policy to a macro policy together with our fiscal policy and monetary policy. The tax cuts under the fiscal policy as well as cutting real interest rates under the monetary policy are all designed to ensure employment in our country. When there is a job, there is income and there is increase in social wealth.
Keeping our major economic indicators within a proper range is first and foremost about ensuring employment and preventing a surge in unemployment. To do that, we will apply a combination of measures including promoting employment for key groups of people like college graduates, demobilized military personnel and laid-off workers. This year, the number of college graduates will reach another new high – 8.34 million. We also need to make sure there will be no zero employment families. For those companies that hire more, the government will provide more policy support. In the meantime, we will expand the platforms to encourage business startups and innovation as a way to generate more jobs. The state of employment very much reflects how our economy is faring.
The government work report touched mainly upon creating new urban jobs. Here I would like to make a special mention of our rural migrant workers which are now numbered at above 280 million. And that figure is still increasing by several million each year. These rural migrant workers are a leading force in many industries and sectors of our country. Much of their earnings come from non-farming jobs, and they carry the hopes of a lot of families. One thing I can never forget is that several years ago, I was visiting the construction site of a local transportation project in a mid-sized northeastern city, where I met some rural migrant workers. It was a cold winter day, and I talked to one of the workers who was about my age on the construction site. He said to me that he wanted to work longer hours so that he could earn more money. I asked him why. He said that his child was just enrolled into a leading university and he wanted to earn more so that his child won’t have to worry about the college tuition fees and can focus on his studies. In his eyes I saw his hopes for a better future for his children.
Indeed, education has been an important underpinning force that keeps the Chinese nation going for several thousand years. That has made it possible for us to come this far in the past 40 years of reform and opening-up. These rural migrant workers must be treated with kindness. And we must ensure that they will not only find jobs but also get paid for their work. There have been instances where their wages cannot be paid in full and on time. The government will formulate regulations to crack down on such malpractices to ensure that the lawful rights and interests of all rural migrant workers will be fully protected. The government must not fail the hope of all their families.