The Paper: You have been calling for the growth of Internet Plus and sharing economy. However, we also saw serious problems last year in these areas. What’s your comment? What measures should be adopted to better regulate the growth of sharing economy?
Premier Li: Internet Plus and sharing economy can also be viewed as a platform economy. Like other new things, they also have upsides and downsides. They have added new jobs, and made life easier and more convenient for our people. They have also driven China’s industrial development. For example, the growth of e-commerce, express delivery services and mobile payment have made life more convenient for our people. When wisdom and strength are pooled, all stand to benefit.
For these new forms of business and new business models, we must not exercise arbitrary regulation or oversight, that is, either letting them be or shutting them down as soon as problems appear. Our choice over the years is to exercise accommodative and prudential regulation. By accommodative, we need to recognize that what is known about new things is always much less than what is unknown about them. So they should be allowed a good chance to grow. And the government needs to detect and redress any possible problem that comes along the way.
By prudential regulation, the government needs to draw a clear line at public safety and security. And no one should be allowed to use Internet Plus or sharing economy as an excuse or means for cheating and manipulation. In this way, our purpose is to foster a more enabling environment for all entrepreneurs and provide our companies good opportunities in developing new drivers of growth. In a word, there should be equal access to the market and impartial regulation on the part of the government. In market competition, the fittest will survive. And with impartial regulation, good rules will be enforced. There will always be both happiness and pain in the growth of new forms of business. The job of the government is to provide them with proper guidance.
Internet Plus and sharing and platform economies still have broad space for further growth. For example, e-commerce and express delivery services have made it possible for industrial goods to reach rural areas, and for quality agricultural produce to be delivered to urban households. In the industrial sector, we may advance the Industrial Internet to put idle production equipment to better and more efficient use and encourage technological innovation. In the social sphere, Internet Plus has also made a difference. For example, it has enabled the sharing and connectivity of different medical, health care resources, educational resources and other services so that even children, aged people and others living in remote rural areas can have access to better hospitals, schools, doctors, teachers and other quality resources. There are many such concrete examples. Such a development has further energized our markets and unleashed public creativity.
Phoenix TV: The Investment from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan is not addressed in the Foreign Investment Law. This may be confusing for people from these three regions. And in your comments about China’s opening-up, you did not mention what measures would be adopted toward Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. Does that mean that there will be certain adjustment to the policies of the central government regarding investment from these three regions?
Premier Li: Hong Kong and Macao are special administrative regions of the People’s Republic of China, and the two sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to one and the same China. We have all along attached great importance to investment from these three regions. Investment from Hong Kong and Macao accounts for 70 percent of all overseas investment on the mainland. So how can we not set store by investment from these two regions? We will further harness the advantages of Hong Kong and Macao as separate customs territories and free ports. When I was addressing the question from the Taiwan journalist, I also said that we are going to create more favorable conditions for business people from Taiwan to invest on the mainland.
The Foreign Investment Law can be used as a reference for investment from these three regions. Moreover, the institutional arrangements and actual practices that have long been in place and proven effective for them will go on unaffected. We hope that these efforts will help to attract even more investment from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. The State Council will formulate related regulations or policy documents. In this process, we will listen carefully to the views of fellow Chinese from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan to see their lawful rights and interests duly protected. Investment from these three regions is most welcome.
China Daily: Last year, the growth of China’s domestic consumption trended downward. However, at the same time, hundreds of millions of Chinese chose to travel overseas for shopping. My question is: what measures will the government take to boost domestic consumption?
Premier Li: It is true that the growth of China’s domestic consumption has been declining for some time. Consumption and people’s well-being are like the two sides of the same coin. There needs to be a reasonable size of investment and increase in consumption. Although consumption is in a certain sense driven by increase in income, we should also recognize there are still obstacles that constrain the growth of domestic consumption. We must resolve these problems, as this will help boost consumption and improve people’s lives.
We have seen an increase in travel by roads in recent years. In this year’s government work report, we set the goal that within two years, we will eliminate almost all expressway tollbooths at provincial borders. And that has proven to be a very popular policy initiative. It will not just ease traffic congestion, but also help with the growth of related industries and sectors. This goal must be achieved, and we have instructed the relevant departments to make their best efforts to achieve it ahead of schedule.
In recent years, we have also worked to raise the speed and cut the rates of Internet services. That has benefited our consumers and boosted the growth of related industries. This year, the goal is to cut the rates for mobile internet services by another 20 percent, and that will involve some RMB180 billion yuan. At the same time, we require that it should be made possible for cellphone users to switch their telecommunications service carriers without changing their phone numbers. This will force the carriers to overhaul hidden charges and further improve their services. It will also help to upgrade the whole industry.
We also plan to cut the prices of electricity for general industrial and commercial companies by an additional 10 percent this year. When it comes to e-commerce, there are up to 10 million online shops in China with over 600 million consumers, and e-commerce platforms run 24/7, and these computers consume a lot of electricity. So, when electricity price is cut for these companies, it will also make it possible for our consumers to benefit more and transform and upgrade the related industries. It is thus an initiative with multiple benefits. We must endeavor to ease and even eliminate all these institutional barriers that constrain consumption. This will stimulate consumption, energize market players, and unlock public creativity. All government departments must be fully aware of the concerns of the people and do their best to meet our people’s expectations.
Nikkei: China is the chair of the China-Japan-ROK summit mechanism this year. And Mr. Premier, what do you think will be the focus of the discussions at the summit? In the backdrop of growing trade protectionism in the international environment, my feeling is that the trilateral FTA may become a focus of discussion this year. When can this FTA be signed? And for China, between the RCEP and the China-Japan-ROK FTA, which is a higher priority?
Premier Li: This year marks the 20th anniversary of the framework of leaders’ meeting among China, Japan and the ROK, and China will be the chair this year. We will discuss with Japan and the ROK and work out the agenda of this year’s summit. I think that the FTA development among the three countries should be put on the agenda of the leaders’ meeting. In particular, given the larger international environment of growing trade protectionism, the development of an FTA among these three countries with a comprehensive, high standard and mutually beneficial agreement is in the interest of all three countries. Although Japan and the ROK run pretty large surpluses in their trade with China, China is still prepared to compete with them on a level playing field so that consumers of the three countries will have more options. In this process, I believe it is important for us to draw on each other’s comparative strengths so that we can all stand to benefit. As to which one will be concluded first, the China-Japan-ROK FTA or RCEP, I think that depends on efforts made by the parties concerned. And whichever will be concluded first, China would welcome that.
As we come to the final question, let me add one point. China pays attention to its relations with Northeast Asian countries. Just now, I addressed a question from the ROK journalist saying that China will continue to play a constructive role as a major country for the denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula. But not just so, we also pay a great deal of attention to our relations with Southeast Asian countries and indeed all our neighbors. We hope to have a stable neighborhood and will continue to follow the principles of amity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness in developing relations with those countries. We will work with them to enhance the complementarity between China’s Belt and Road Initiative and their development plans. In a word, China will stay on the path of peaceful development and will continue to be a positive force and a contributor for regional and global peace and development.
At the end of the press conference, a journalist from Southern Metropolis Daily asked whether there would be a three-day national holiday for the May 1st Labor Day this year.
Premier Li said, we would ask relevant departments to study this expeditiously, taking full account of the views of the general public.
The Press Conference, held at the Golden Hall on the third floor of the Great Hall of the People, lasted for about 150 minutes and was attended by over 1,200 Chinese and foreign journalists.