China pushes tech autonomy at Congress

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese leaders are shifting focus from the coronavirus back to long-term goals of making China a technology leader at this year’s highest-profile political event, the meeting of its ceremonial legislature, amid tension with Washington and Europe over trade, Hong Kong and human rights.

The National People’s Congress (NPC), which opens tomorrow, has no real power. But the ruling Communist Party uses the gathering of 3,000-plus delegates to showcase economic and social plans.

The NPC usually focusses on domestic issues but those increasingly are overshadowed by geopolitics, including a feud with Washington over technology and security. In October, party leaders declared that making China a self-reliant “technology power” is this year’s economic priority.

Chinese leaders were rattled after Washington cut off access to United States (US) processor chips and other inputs needed by telecom equipment giant Huawei and some other companies.

That threatens fledgling industries seen by Beijing as a path to prosperity and global influence.

Shipping containers are seen at a container port in Qingdao in eastern China’s Shandong Province. PHOTO: AP

“China is moving from fighting the coronavirus to returning to long-term development objectives,” said Citigroup economist Li-Gang Liu.

During the congress, leaders will announce closely watched spending plans for the People’s Liberation Army.

Last year’s official budget was USD178.6 billion, the second-largest after the US, but outside experts said total spending is up to 40 per cent more than the reported figure.

This year’s session comes amid repeated clashes between President Xi Jinping’s Government and Washington, Europe, Japan, India, Australia and others over trade, technology and the coronavirus.

Xi’s Government also is encouraging Chinese exporters to focus more on domestic markets in response to Washington’s tariff hikes on goods from China.