On the BRI and vaccine diplomacy front foot, Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi 王毅 began 2021 in Africa and Southeast Asia. Helping Africa industrialise, build infrastructure and develop free trade zones were the visit goals: on the wider agenda, cooperation in the digital economy and green development.
Viable and profit-driven, the DSR covers all things digital along the virtual path of BRI: digital economy, e-commerce, IT infrastructure, smart cities and more. The 14th 5-year plan is sure to deliver more policy support, above all in digital trade, data rules and urging third-party buy-in.
Ministry of Science and Technology picks up the baton from the Central Economic Work Conference, which set tech self-sufficiency as the top priority. ‘Rally the whole nation for the tech battle’, Wang Zhigang 王志刚 Minister of Science and Technology urges his comrades.
The 14th 5-year plan proposals made a small but notable change to retirement age: its phased deferment has now moved from research to rollout. Eight years since it first appeared in top discussions, the Party is finally ready to take action. But rollout will be riddled with complexities; its impact on society will be huge.
Agreed ‘in principle’ 30 Dec 2020, the China–EU investment deal awaits approval by EU member parliaments. It is praised by MofCOM (Ministry of Commerce) as ‘balanced, high-standard and win-win’: both sides retain supervisory powers while promising to ‘open’. In addition, the content exceeds traditional investment agreements; market access, they note, expands both ways.
For scitech to star in the show came as no surprise after the 5th Plenum proposals. Scitech innovation is for now an absolute priority for leadership. Yet breakthroughs rarely happen overnight: more specific policy is needed. The mid-to-long term scitech development plan (2021-35), currently in draft, may give direction.
Tech self-sufficiency topped the agenda at the Central Economic Work Conference, echoing the 5th Plenum proposals and providing further proof that it will be central in the coming 5-year plan. Scitech innovation has become an arena for great power competition, comments Vice Minister of Science and Technology Li Ming 李萌.
BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) marches on despite the drive to curb risks. A new pilot zone on the Kazakhstan border has been set up in Tacheng prefecture, Xinjiang, reinforcing ties with Central Asia. Talks were also launched with Belarus on trade in services and investment promising more of the same with other BRI countries.
State-of-the-art communications networks will provide a high quality ‘thought’ narrative for the coming 5-year plan period. Its expression will, just as much as GDP and emissions targets, be closely watched.
Cybersecurity dominates a new 5-year plan for a rule-based (‘rule of law’) society. As the Personal Information Protection Law looms, cyberspace and IT regulators consolidate privacy protection via new standards. But things are messier on the ground.
Trade policy planning is not short of clashing priorities in search of solutions, including: positioning for rival trade agreements; building ties/reducing risk across BRI; adopting overseas standards vs. promoting Beijing’s own.
State Council has been quick to highlight tech’s need to not leave the elderly behind. This comes in the wake of news that a 94-year-old had to be carried to a bank for facial recognition to activate her social insurance card. Ageing also puts pressure on pension funds. Central adjustments are in train to correct regional pension variations; more aggressive pooling is planned.
The next ag and rural plan will proclaim a rosy future for a rejuvenated countryside, home to ‘moderate prosperity’. But economic slowdown, tightening budgets and falling off-farm employment, exacerbated by COVID-19, undermine these ambitions. Raising farmer incomes and welfare presumes radical overhaul of the entrenched dual-track land management.