1. Hands across Eurasia
On Tuesday, Xi Jinping delivered the keynote speech at the Boao Forum for Asia.
Some context: The China-organized Boao Forum brings together government and business leaders from across the Asia-Pacific region and is colloquially known as “Asian Davos.”
This year’s theme: Join hands to advance Belt and Road (BRI) cooperation.
Xi was characteristically on-brand in touting his flagship foreign policy initiative (Xinhua 2):
- “[T]he [BRI] is a public road open to all, not a private path owned by one single party.”
- “All interested countries are welcome aboard to take part in the cooperation and share in its benefits.”
According to Xi, said benefits include:
- Public health cooperation
- Infrastructure connectivity
- Shared green development
And Xi was super DUPER on-brand in highlighting the poverty alleviation possibilities of participation in the BRI:
- “A World Bank report suggests that by 2030, Belt and Road projects could help lift 7.6 million people from extreme poverty and 32 million people from moderate poverty across the world.”
Get smart: The BRI has faded from the headlines somewhat in recent years, but it’s still very much a thing.
Get smarter: While many Western countries fear China’s rise, many in the developing world welcome it.
2. Xi seeks help from top universities
On Monday, Xi paid a visit to his alma mater, Tsinghua University.
Some context: Xi studied chemical engineering at Tsinghua between 1975-1979.
Xi used the visit to sound an alarm (Gov.cn):
- “The need for higher education, scientific knowledge, and outstanding talents to aid the development of the Party and the country’s undertakings is more urgent than ever.”
- “[Colleges should share] the county’s wishes, worries, and needs and focus on improving their abilities for fostering talents.”
What’s got Xi worried: The fact that China is still dependent on an increasingly hostile West for many key technologies.
You don’t see this everyday. Xi encouraged researchers to challenge conventional wisdom:
- “We must… encourage free exploration, dare to question existing theories, and have the courage to open up new directions.”
There’s just one caveat: They still need to toe the Party line, of course.
- “[College teachers] must strengthen their convictions, always stand with the Party and the people, and consciously be firm believers and loyal practitioners of socialism with Chinese characteristics.”
Get smart: China’s restrictive information environment hinders innovation at the margins. But, given the vast amount of resources aimed at fostering innovation, it’s unwise to bet against Xi’s technology push.
3. Li Keqiang’s unlikely makeover
On Monday, Premier Li Keqiang headed down to Sichuan to burnish his man-of-the-people image.
Li visited Shahe, a small rural township near the borders with Shaanxi and Gansu.
While in Shahe, he visited:
- The local health center
- The local primary school
The visit is squarely aimed at appealing to the average Zhou, with Li:
- Lauding China’s farmers
- Promising more support for basic healthcare
- Promising more funding for rural schools and teachers
This visit is part of a larger trend: Over the past year, Li has repeatedly sought to portray himself as an approachable leader fighting for the people.
- Of the top leadership, Li was first on the ground in Wuhan after the outbreak of COVID-19 last year.
- In June, Li championed street vendors, who have been driven out of many urban areas by zealous (and unpopular) city management officials.
- In August, Li trudged through mud and muck to inspect flood relief efforts in Chongqing.
It’s an interesting makeover: When Li took over the premiership in 2013, most citizens that we talked to thought he was too bookish and aloof – your typical Beijing bureaucrat.
Get smart: Li has largely been sidelined by Xi Jinping. But he is not going down without a fight.
4. NPCSC keeps on keeping busy
Mark your calendars!
The next National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) meeting will be held on April 26-29.
- NPCSC Chairman Li Zhanshu announced the dates on Friday, along with a chunky list of legislation that will be up for consideration or review.
On the NPCSC’s agenda (The Paper):
- The Rural Revitalization Promotion Law
- The Anti-Food Waste Law
- The Education Law
- The Hainan Free Trade Port Law
- The Law on the Protection of the Status, Rights, and Interests of Military Personnel
- The Maritime Traffic Safety Law
- The Data Security Law
- The Personal Information Protection Law
- The Supervisors Law
- The Futures Law
- Measures for electing PLA delegates to legislative congresses at or above the county-level
- A decision on strengthening the review and oversight of the central budget
The committee will also deliberate (NPC Observer):
- A set of draft amendments to the Road Traffic Safety Law and eight other (not yet identified) laws.
- A State Council request to halt the operation of certain statutory provisions in China’s free trade zones.
Get smart: The NPCSC is planning to draft or amend a whopping 45 legislative items in 2021 – up from 25 in 2020.
5. Shots, shots, shots, shots, shots, shots (only some folks)
China’s vaccination rate is slowing.
As of Sunday, 192.13 million vaccine doses had been administered in China.
- Over the last week, there was an average of 3.54 million jabs each day – down significantly from 3.91 million per day the week before and 4.55 million per day two weeks before.
On Saturday, prominent infectious disease expert Zhang Wenhong put those stats into perspective (The Paper):
- “China has vaccinated 12.2% of the population, ranking eighth in the world.”
According to public health officials, those are rookie numbers:
- Experts say China needs to administer 10 million doses per day to meet Beijing’s unofficial goal of vaccinating 40% of the population by summer.
Despite the overall slow pace, megacities are making good progress:
- By April 16, Shanghai had administered 10.15 million doses to its population of 24.28 million.
- By April 19, Beijing had vaccinated 13 million people – 60% of the city’s population.
Get smart: China’s megacities have the resources and medical infrastructure to get shots into arms.
- Lower tier cities and rural areas, not so much.
Get smarter: Getting to herd immunity is going to require a serious push in those very same regions.