Those are lofty ambitions, and until now it had been far from clear how Beijing planned to achieve them. But the world got more clues last week when Premier Li Keqiang outlined some aspects of the country’s agenda, and Beijing released a draft of the five-year plan.
Shedding reliance on foreign tech
Li stressed the importance of technological development and innovation during his speech on Friday. He said that China will increase spending on research and development by more than 7% annually. The Chinese government has previously identified semiconductors, 5G networks and cloud computing as critical areas, among others.
State vs. private sector
The government has made clear in recent months — and in its new five-year plan — that such companies will be expected to toe the Chinese Communist Party line if they want to succeed.
“As Xi pursues ambitions for China at the cutting edge of technology, Beijing recognizes that a top-down approach has limits,” Eurasia Group analysts wrote in a recent research report. “But Beijing’s willingness to leave more to the market will be challenged by Xi’s sense of urgency and frequent preference for a strong hand for the [Party] and state.”
The new five-year plan gave more insight into how authorities want to expand their reach. Tech companies are “encouraged” to share data related to research, e-commerce and social networks.
Reaching carbon neutrality
As China charts its economic trajectory for the coming years it will also have to balance those ambitions with an urgent need to tackle the climate crisis.
The country spent decades staking its ascent on massive infrastructure projects and manufacturing, building an economic engine that is now heavily reliant on dirty energy. And analysts have said that pressures caused by Covid-19 and tensions with the West are pushing China to spend more on those energy sources, not less.
Still, the country has finally started outlining some details on how it wants to work toward its climate coals.
Even before the “Two Sessions” meeting kicked off, the state power grid had unveiled plans to upgrade its network, reduce coal-power generation and develop charging stations for electric vehicles.
The draft five-year plan contained more benchmarks. By the end of 2025, China aims to boost the use of non-fossil fuels to 20% of total energy consumption from the current level of 15%. That includes efforts to build more nuclear power stations and clean energy facilities.
Premier Li said Friday that China intends to cut energy consumption per unit of GDP by 3% in 2021. It plans to do so by eliminating heavy air pollution and requiring some 70% of heating in the northern part of the country to come from clean energy sources, among other methods.
“This should be a start to commit to the net-zero carbon emission target by 2060,” said Iris Pang, chief economist for Greater China at ING, in a Friday report.
China outlined other ways to reach its coals, including through the construction of more clean energy facilities like hydropower plants and wind farms.
But some climate experts argue that the five-year plan still lacks significant detail about how China will ultimately move away from coal in a more meaningful way.
“In terms of the climate, initial indications from China’s 14th Five Year Plan are underwhelming,” said Swithin Lui, lead China analyst for the Climate Action Tracker at NewClimate Institute, in a statement Friday. “While it’s positive that this plan does reiterate its commitment to carbon neutrality by 2060, and peaking emissions before 2030, there is little sign of the change needed to reach that goal.”
— Ivana Kottasová and Steven Jiang contributed to this report.
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