Spanish News Agency EFE: The trade war with the United States, in case that continues, could represent an opportunity to improve the relationship between Europe and China, or will only have negative effects. And in any case, what do you expect of the relationship between Europe and China this year?
Premier Li: The China-US trade friction is an issue between China and the United States. We will not exploit any third party. We will not target or hurt the interest of any third party. For China and the EU, China is the largest developing country in the world, the EU the largest union of developed countries in the world. And both are important poles in the multi-polar world. A growing China-EU relationship serves the interests of both China and the EU and the world at large.
China and the EU are each other’s biggest trading partner. There has been cooperation as well as frictions in our relationship. Over the years, we have gained good experience in managing our differences and frictions and I believe such experience should continue to be applied. One very important experience is to deepen our mutual trust. The two sides are now advancing negotiations on an investment agreement. The purpose is to further facilitate the two-way flow of our investment to see that the two sides will benefit on an equal footing from this agreement. I believe that we need to view each other’s development with an open mind and continue to properly handle our differences in the course of pursuing cooperation for continued, steady growth of our relationship. Next month, I am going to visit the EU Headquarters and host the next round of China-EU Summit with the EU leaders. I hope that both sides will view this relationship from a strategic and long-term perspective, and continue to show mutual respect, deepen our mutual understanding and advance cooperation in joint pursuit of sustained, healthy growth of our ties.
China Central Television: It seems that quality medical resources are still somewhat inaccessible and quite expensive. In particular, a serious illness could cause heavy burdens on the families concerned. I would like to ask: what specific measures will the government take to tackle this problem?
Premier Li: Accessing quality medical resources is indeed a key issue related to people’s lives. And getting treatment for serious illnesses is truly an acute concern of our people. There does exist the problem of inaccessible and quite expensive medical care in our country. I would like to say that over the years we have been able to provide basic medical care services to cover the entire population. In addition, we have established the scheme for serious illness insurance with a cost-sharing formula between the government and individuals, an important measure to mitigate the burdens on patients with serious illnesses, especially needy patients. This is a quite creative step the Chinese government has taken.
There have been complaints about the high costs of cancer drugs, so last year, through various means including tax cuts, we managed to cut the prices of 17 cancer drugs by over 50 percent and included them into medical insurance schemes. This has significantly eased the financial burdens on cancer patients and poor families. This shows that the government must do its level best in resolving people’s concerns.
This year, the government plans to do its utmost in taking two major steps. First, we will make the outpatient drugs for chronic diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes reimbursable, and set the reimbursement rate at 50 percent. This measure will benefit some 400 million Chinese suffering from these chronic diseases. And when I talked to some of those patients, they told me that they have to take drugs every day and a lot of their pension benefits have to be spent on these drugs. This is a problem we need to address. Second, when it comes to serious illness insurance scheme, which already covers nearly 1.4 billion people, we will lower the payout threshold and raise the reimbursement rate so that this scheme can truly produce amplifying effects to benefit as many people as possible. Although we have established a medical care safety net that covers a large population, the level of actual benefits is still not high. For example, for Chinese farmers, their average per capita annual income is less than 15,000 yuan, so it would be very hard for one to just rely on himself or herself to cover expenses for the treatment of serious illnesses. The government and private entities must work together in this respect to meet people’s health needs. Without health, there would be no happy life for our people.
Channel NewsAsia of Singapore: The Foreign Investment Law has just been adopted at the NPC Session today. Yet there is also worry that the exceptional swift adoption of this piece of legislation is only in large measure a response to pressure from the United States. And the ambiguity of some legal provisions will only provide the Chinese government further wiggle room for self-discretion and lower investors’ expectations of the actual effects of enforcement. How would you respond to this? What specific measures will the government take to ensure full enforcement of the law?
Premier Li: Opening-up is China’s fundamental state policy. It has delivered real benefits to the Chinese people and has benefited the world. So why won’t we go ahead with it? If we make a promise on opening-up, we will certainly deliver on it. For instance, last year, we lifted foreign ownership restrictions in some key basic industries. And we have seen the delivery of a big number of major projects in these respects. Last year, China remained the largest recipient of FDI among all developing countries. Going ahead, we will continue to carefully listen to the views from various parties and keep making China more open.
The just-concluded NPC Session adopted the Foreign Investment Law. This piece of legislation is designed to better protect and attract foreign investment through legislative means. This law will also regulate government behaviors, requiring the government to perform its functions in accordance with the law. The government will introduce a series of matching regulations and directives to protect the rights and interests of foreign investors, such as on working mechanisms for handling complaints filed by foreign-invested enterprises. These will be the important things for the government to do in the following weeks and months to see that this law will be truly operable.
We will continue to implement a management system of pre-establishment national treatment plus a negative list. We will release a newly revised negative list which will become shorter. And going forward, we will further shorten our negative list, which means that more areas will be opened up for foreign investment. We will also enhance the protection of intellectual property. In this respect, we will make revisions to the laws on IPR protection and introduce a mechanism of punitive compensation to ensure that all infringements of intellectual property will be seriously dealt with and have nowhere to hide. We also hope that foreign governments can view in an objective light the cooperation between Chinese companies and their foreign partners based on mutual agreement. In a word, China will further open up, and China’s opening-up measures will not come on a one-off basis, but will be introduced quarter after quarter and year after year. In hindsight, when we review the course of China’s opening-up, we would realize how tremendous a change that has taken place in this country.
Guangming Daily: Last year, the Central Bank cut required reserve ratio several times, lowering the costs of financial institutions. However, companies still feel there is difficulty in accessing affordable financing. And they have yet to feel the actual results of those policy adjustments. What measures will be adopted this year to ensure there will be better financial services for the real economy?
Premier Li: Serving the real economy is the bounden duty of the financial sector. However, there does exist the problem of inaccessible and expensive financing for the real economy, in particular, private businesses and small and micro companies. Last year, we took a number of steps to curb the fast rise in the financing cost faced by our companies. The Central Bank cut required reserve ratio four times to reduce costs for financial institutions, so that more money will flow to our private companies, and small and micro companies. This year, we will take a multi-pronged approach in this respect to significantly ameliorate this problem that is seriously constraining our economic development and the vitality of our market. Our goal is to further cut the financing cost for small and micro companies by another one percentage point this year.
As China takes its own initiative to further open up, we will adhere to the principle of competitive neutrality and treat both domestic and foreign-invested enterprises as equals. Likewise, we also need to treat all businesses under various types of ownership as equals. As far as lending is concerned, there do exist some problems and obstacles. We need to encourage financial institutions to enhance their internal management system and provide more services to private companies, and to small and micro firms, to lessen their financing cost and rein in arbitrary charges. When small and micro companies are vibrant, our economy will be full of life and energy. And there will be a stable employment situation.
In the meantime, we also need to forestall financial risks. No new loans will be made to zombie companies which are no longer solvent. And so-called financial activities that are illegal and non-compliant must be stopped and seriously dealt with. We are fully capable of forestalling systemic financial risks. Strengthening financial services and preventing financial risks are mutually reinforcing.
TASS: This year marks the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Russia and China, a milestone in the history of relations between our two countries. Last year, for the first time, two-way trade exceeded US$100 billion. What new breakthroughs do you foresee for the growth of Russia-China relations, and in particular, their economic and trade cooperation this year?
Premier Li: China and Russia are each other’s biggest neighbors. A sound and stable China-Russia relationship serves the interests of the two countries, the region and the world.
This year is the 70th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the two countries. In the past seven decades, our relationship has traveled an extraordinary journey. And today it has reached a very high level featuring deepening mutual political trust and growing people-to-people exchange. As you mentioned, in spite of the downturn in global trade growth last year, trade between our two countries exceeded, for the first time, US$100 billion. That shows there is still much untapped potential in our business ties. And we need to work together to further expand areas of cooperation. For example, we may continue to focus on our big project cooperation and trade in commodities. We may also strengthen our cooperation between micro and small firms and cross-border e-commerce platforms. We may enhance collaboration in aviation and aerospace, and also enhance exchanges at the sub-national level and between our peoples. In a word, we need to make use of all possible means at our disposal to, first, keep our 100-billion-dollar trade stable, and then, work further toward the goal of doubling it.