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Political leaders in China are meeting with the goal of recharging their economy

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

China is holding its annual legislative and political meetings this week in Beijing. This is a one-party state, but the government does have a congress as well as a kind of advisory body from across society. And they meet today in what's called the Two Sessions, the two big groups to endorse what the Communist Party leadership is doing. And what they're doing is trying to fix China's economy. NPR international correspondent Emily Feng covers this. Hi there, Emily.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So what are the leaders proposing to do?

FENG: They are obsessed with restarting the economy today. So China's Premier Li Qiang got up, and he presented this annual work report where they set out the government's targets for the year. They want to reduce unemployment. They want to create millions of jobs. And they set this target to grow the economy by 5% this year, which is roughly in line with previous years. This is pretty ambitious given China's economy has been plateauing. So China said today they're going to reduce restrictions on foreign investment into the country, especially in manufacturing, where there used to be caps on how much foreign firms could own. They didn't really give specifics about what restrictions would be lifted. But this is good news because it was sorely lifted. You know, foreign investment into China dropped to a three-year low last year. And another interesting bit - China says it's going to issue about $140 billion of what they call special ultra long central government bonds to address some funding shortages. This is effectively a financial stimulus. It's something that Beijing was reluctant to do at first. They did do a stimulus during the last recession in 2007, 2008. But there are signs now that the central government's really finally stepping in.

INSKEEP: Thank you. A lot of numbers there, but I find them really interesting and one really catches my eye and in my ear, Emily. Because a few years ago, China would have considered 5% growth to be really bad, to be a step backward because they were commonly getting 9%, 10%, unbelievable growth. Now you're saying they are hoping to get back up to 5% growth. Will these measures work?

FENG: Absolutely. They're aiming for modest growth now. The easy gains have already been got. So the policies they're proposing today in the short term will address the more immediate financial emergencies. They're going to help plug in debts that local governments owe but can't pay back and finish projects they may have already started but don't have cash on hand to finish. But long term, China is going to see continuing plateauing because it's not backing down on an intentional major economic shift. China's on purpose moving away from things that used to make them a lot of money - you know, drove those nine, 10% annual growth numbers you just mentioned - things like building new buildings or chasing public offerings on new stock markets. And they're moving instead to areas of innovation and new technology in semiconductor chips or green energy - things that don't make them a lot of money quickly, might not be guaranteed successes, but which China sees as essential to its national interests. And as a result, China's new premier, Li Qiang, warned today to the 3,000 or so delegates who were at these meetings that this year is going to be a little tough.

LI QIANG: (Non-English language spoken).

FENG: He's saying governments at every level must get used to keeping their belts tightened, and the fiscal funds are used where they're needed most.

INSKEEP: Everything that you're saying, of course, comes out of these Two Sessions. Do you really learn very much from this exercise?

FENG: I mean, a little bit, but it's becoming really tough. You know, when I first started reporting on China about seven years ago, you could directly go to these meetings, approach delegates, interview them. That's becoming much harder. And then this year, they finally announced they're actually cutting the premier's press conference for the first time in three decades. It used to be the one chance where you could directly ask a top official, but that's not happening this year.

INSKEEP: NPR's Emily Feng - thanks so much.

FENG: Thanks, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Emily Feng is NPR's Beijing correspondent.