China’s legislature maps out post-COVID recovery, resists pressure for a new Cold War
Delegates leave after the closing ceremony for China's National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Monday, March 13, 2023. | Andy Wong / AP

The Western corporate press was filled with the news last week of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s election to a third term and the country’s increased military spending, but the annual meeting of the Chinese legislature focused on topics that went well beyond just those two issues.

Some 3,000 delegates to China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) met in Beijing from March 5-12, passing laws addressing a wide range of issues to advance towards the goal of building “a modern socialist country by 2050,” that is “green and democratic.”

The NPC oversees 31 provinces, provincial level autonomous zones and megacities, as well as 26 state-level institutions.

The Congress was lively and active, as China’s economy is once again accelerating, hitting a 5% growth after three years of COVID-imposed limitations. Managing and implementing economic policy is a major task of the NPC, as is adopting and administering the national budget and securing social programs.

At the session, the country’s leadership spoke with unusual directness on war and peace and the need to safeguard China’s core interests and national sovereignty, both of which are under pressure from U.S. imperialism. Military spending will increase by 7.2%, coming on top of last year’s 7.1% increase.

All the country’s top government officials are elected by the NPC delegates. As mentioned, Xi was elected for a third term as President of China, and Li Qiang from Shanghai was chosen as Premier of the State Council. Qin Gang, ambassador to the U.S., was elevated to the post of foreign minister. Anti-corruption chief Zhao Leji is the new chairman of the Standing Committee of the NPC, the legislature’s permanent body between meetings. Other top government appointments were made as well, including the new leadership of the Central Military Commission.

Resisting the new Cold War

The relationship between China and the United States attracted much attention at the session. Xi explicitly called out the U.S. as a “hegemonic power” trying to contain and suppress China in an all-around way.

“We must fully promote the modernization of national defense,” the president said, “and build the people’s armed forces into a Great Wall of steel that effectively safeguards national sovereignty, security, and development interests.”

Qin Gang, the new foreign minister, expressed disagreement with U.S. President Joe Biden’s “guardrails” theory, which says the U.S. is engaged in “fierce competition” to out-compete and defeat China. But since war is not desirable, according to Biden, the major powers should keep their competition within “guardrails.”

Xi Jinping takes the oath of office after he was unanimously elected president of China for a third term during a session of the National People’s Congress (NPC), Friday, March 10, 2023. | Mark Schiefelbein / AP

This was intended to convey that the U.S. strategy of slandering and pressuring China is a “legitimate” big power competition. China’s leaders disagreed with this picture. They regard the U.S.’ “fierce competition” strategy as highly risky and irresponsible.

Qin said that the “guardrails” could slip and fail. “If the U.S. persists in this approach, there is a good chance of conflict and confrontation, then who will bear the responsibility for this catastrophe?” Qin asked. “Relations should be based upon respect and cooperation, mutual self-interest and benefit.”

At a press conference, Premier Li said, “China and the United States should cooperate, and must cooperate. When China and the U.S. work together, there is much we can achieve.” He added, “Encirclement and suppression are not advantageous for anyone.”

On the matter of Taiwan, the Congress declared, again, that China stands firm on the Taiwan question, namely that there is one China and Taiwan is a part of it. Despite U.S. agitation on the issue, the Congress was clear: “Only the Chinese people will decide the future status of Taiwan.”

Encouraging global cooperation 

At the same time, the NPC session emphasized that China—a victim of colonialism and imperialism from 1839 to 1949, during what in Chinese history is called “the century of humiliation”—emphasized the country’s connections with the developing world and the Global South.

International governance, Congress documents said, should be more democratic, and the developing world, which has a majority of the global population, should have more say at international meetings and institutions.

The Congress greeted the welcome news that the Chinese Foreign Ministry had facilitated a rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia, with the two rival countries agreeing to re-establish diplomatic relations—to the chagrin of the U.S. government.

Investment in projects that are part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)—China’s landmark program for economic engagement and partnership with the developing world—is now approximately one trillion U.S. dollars. Most of this investment is in much-needed infrastructure in the less developed world, including highways, railroads, airports and seaports, and basic industry.

While there have been some less viable projects in such a huge program, it is overall productive, based on mutual benefit, and welcomed in most countries worldwide.

Accusations in the corporate media that the BRI is a “debt trap” for participating countries continue to be largely fiction, as 80% of the developing world’s debt is owed not to China but to multilateral institutions and Western banks.

China is participating in the debt servicing initiative of the G20, and later in 2023, the Third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation will be hosted by China.

Domestic policy

When it comes to domestic economic recovery and post-pandemic growth, decisions to restructure government administration are one sign of the NPC’s priorities. The State Council is creating new bodies to improve central control of the financial system, speed up progress in science and technology, and modernize the government’s ability to manage data and oversee the advance of the digital economy.

Policies for the post-COVID economic recovery are shifting towards less strict regulation of non-public corporations and the real estate market, raising some eyebrows among those who are weary of the private sector. Efforts to attract foreign capital are being re-emphasized after several years. President Xi met with business leaders of U.S.-sanctioned Chinese companies and emphasized the need for unity in mapping out a recovery plan.

New Premier Li Qiang, center, holds a press conference after the closing ceremony for the NPC, Monday, March 13, 2023. | Mark Schiefelbein / AP

“People-centered development,” the banner theme of the Congress’ policy orientation, means improving the income and living standards of the people. Under that directive, rural revitalization and providing support for the aging population are priorities.

A number of amendments to the constitution were debated prior to the Congress and voted on during its session. Many of the proposed amendments concerned strengthening the system of what the government refers to as “whole process socialist democracy,” and include granting more authority to the local people’s congresses—the legislative bodies at lower levels.

There were also numerous proposals and laws related to environmental protection, such as the Yangtze River Protection Law.

Toward socialism and peace

The National People’s Congress of March 2023 and the preceding 20th Congress of the Communist Party of China held last fall are, together, important milestones in China’s modernization and its effort to advance to a more developed form of socialism.

Many of the ideologues of U.S. imperialism and foreign policy hawks in Washington dread the coming-of-age of a modern socialist country the size of China and will try to stop its realization.

U.S. activists can help the struggle for peace by opposing all the moves toward provoking a new Cold War—whether from the current White House administration or any that follows.

We hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, please support great working-class and pro-people journalism by donating to People’s World.

We are not neutral. Our mission is to be a voice for truth, democracy, the environment, and socialism. We believe in people before profits. So, we take sides. Yours!

We are part of the pro-democracy media contesting the vast right-wing media propaganda ecosystem brainwashing tens of millions and putting democracy at risk.

Our journalism is free of corporate influence and paywalls because we are totally reader supported. At People’s World, we believe news and information should be free and accessible to all.

But we need your help. It takes money—a lot of it—to produce and cover unique stories you see in our pages. Only you, our readers and supporters, make this possible. If you enjoy reading People’s World and the stories we bring you, support our work by donating or becoming a monthly sustainer today.


Duncan McFarland
Duncan McFarland

Duncan McFarland is with the Center for Marxist Education in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He first visited China in 1981 with the U.S.-China People's Friendship Association and was the coordinator of the China Study Group (Boston) from 2008-2016.