New US tariffs on China seriously hurt global environmental protection: Global Times editorial

The recent increase in tariffs imposed by the US on imports from China, particularly on electric vehicles (EVs), lithium batteries, and semiconductors, has sparked criticism globally. Not only did the International Monetary Fund (IMF) spokesperson criticize the move, saying it "can distort trade and investment, and fragment supply chains," several US media, including The Washington Post, also slammed that the new tariffs raise costs for companies using green energy devices and make electric vehicles less affordable for US consumers. 

"Forcing consumers, via tariffs, to subsidize domestic clean energy companies that are far from the cutting edge of technology is an economic and environmental loser," The Washington Post article said. Colorado Governor Jared Polis also stated that the new tariffs are "a major setback for clean energy."

The concerns are far-sighted and realistic. The new tariffs represent another escalation of the US' policy to contain China in recent years, forcing its companies to restructure supply and industrial chains, and disrupting the normal global trade order. This restructuring will have a profound negative impact on the global industrial system centered around emission reduction goals, leading to serious environmental issues worldwide. 

It should be pointed out that the timing of the new US tariffs coincides with a critical moment in the global transition from traditional to new energy and the construction of a global green economy. On April 17, Dubai, a country located in a desert region, experienced a sudden downpour, with one day's rainfall equivalent to half the average annual rainfall. 

This most severe rainstorm in 75 years caused Dubai International Airport to close for three days. Extreme heat waves, severe cold, torrential rains, hurricanes, droughts and floods... the increasingly frequent extreme weather events highlight the urgency of global efforts to address climate change to a degree felt by everyone.

At the beginning of this year, the World Meteorological Organization released a report officially confirming 2023 as the warmest year on record. The report indicates that new record-high levels were set in 2023 for all three of the main greenhouse gases. Carbon dioxide levels are 50 percent higher than in the pre-industrial era.

According to a report released by the United Nations Environment Programme at the end of last year, predicted 2030 greenhouse gas emissions still must fall by 28 percent for the Paris Agreement 2 C pathway and 42 percent for the 1.5 C pathway.

Against this backdrop, it has become a widespread consensus in the international community to achieve effective emission reduction and build a new form of sustainable economic development for humanity by significantly adjusting the energy structure, especially by promoting the widespread use of new energy products to achieve low-carbon emissions. It is precisely for this reason that China's "new three" products have been widely welcomed in markets around the world. 

Data shows that in 2023, China contributed more than half of the global renewable energy installed capacity of 510 million kilowatts. In 2022, China's renewable energy generation contributed to a reduction of approximately 2.26 billion tons in domestic CO2 emissions, while exports of wind power and solar products aided other nations in decreasing CO2 emissions by an additional 573 million tons. 

The two figures add up to 2.83 billion tonnes of emissions reduction, or about 41 percent of the global total of carbon emissions reduction due to renewable energy. 

At the World Energy Congress held in April, Amin Nasser, CEO of Saudi Aramco, one of the world's largest oil companies, said that "China has made these green products so affordable, and they will help the West achieve its target of cutting carbon emissions to a net zero level by 2050." Imagine what the global energy transition would look like without China's green production capacity, and how it would impact humanity's ability to address climate change.

Especially for developing countries, it is China's progress in the field of new energy that allows them to purchase more cost-effective EVs, lithium batteries, and photovoltaic products. The report from the International Renewable Energy Agency pointed out that in the past 10 years, the average cost of wind and photovoltaic power generation projects globally has cumulatively decreased by over 60 percent and 80 percent, respectively, with a large part of it attributed to Chinese innovation, manufacturing, and engineering. In this sense, the development and progress of China's new energy industry are not only accelerators of the global energy transition, but also the vanguard of humanity's response to climate change. This represents not only high-quality and advanced production capacity, but also widespread development justice.

There is only one Earth, and all countries share the same planet. Responding to global climate change and promoting energy transition in various countries is a task filled with both difficulties and hope. It requires a true spirit of "working together for the world" from all countries, as well as the joint maintenance of an open and fair international economic system. Nowadays, some people in the US, out of short-sighted and narrow political motives and fragile anxiety, are waving a big stick in the field of tariffs, undoubtedly weakening the cohesion of countries and their ability to respond to climate change, damaging the positive prospects of global green transformation. 

This will also be a "protectionist disaster" for humanity. It is hoped that they will wake up soon!

Potential US curbs on AI model exports 'hegemonic' action, experts say

Chinese experts said on Thursday that potential export restrictions by the US on artificial intelligence (AI) models mainly target China, and the reported move is essentially a case of self-isolation and a hegemonic action, which will hinder the swift evolution of the global AI industry and dampen previous strides in globalization.

The so-called security concerns on the use of advanced AI models are completely political rhetoric meant to stoke fears over China's development, amid the intensifying US crackdown on Chinese products, observers said.

Reuters has reported that the US government is considering a new regulatory push to restrict exports of proprietary or closed-source AI models, whose software, and the data they train on, are kept under wraps.

The action was due to concerns that "US adversaries could use the models… to wage aggressive cyber-attacks or even create potent biological weapons."

The move adds to restrictions Washington has put in place to block exports of sophisticated AI technologies to China.

As China's AI sector booms, the US government has been acutely aware of the competitive pressure exerted by its biggest rival. With AI models emerging as a new focal point of competition, the US has continuously used the "national security threat" rhetoric to stoke fears over Chinese products, in a bid to hinder China's industrial upgrading, Ma Jihua, a veteran telecom industry observer, told the Global Times on Thursday.

The US announced in April it was adding four Chinese firms to an export blacklist for allegedly aiding Chinese entities in acquiring AI chips in violation of US regulations, according to media reports. Analysts noted that the action was part of the intensifying US crackdown on China's high-tech sector in recent years.

China's Foreign Ministry said in April that "we strongly oppose the illegal US unilateral sanctions" and vowed to do "what is necessary to firmly safeguard the lawful rights and interests of Chinese companies while urging the US to stop politicizing trade and tech issues and turning them into weapons."

Regardless of the measures the US may ultimately enact, the impact on China's AI sector is expected to be minimal, analysts said. Instead, the likely move would drive Chinese users toward home-grown large language models (LLMs), which are gaining robust momentum, Pan Helin, a member of the Expert Committee for Information and Communication Economy under the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, told the Global Times on Thursday.

China's LLM sector is highly competitive, with a wide array of options available for its huge market. Given the disparities between Chinese and English contexts, homegrown AI products are better suited to Chinese consumers than their US counterparts, Pan said, highlighting the vast potential of the country's high-tech sector.

The Chinese Embassy in the US responded to inquiries by denouncing the reported action as a "typical act of economic coercion and unilateral bullying, which China firmly opposes," adding that it would take "necessary measures" to protect its interests, Reuters reported.

China is stepping up efforts to boost AI development and has witnessed fruitful outcomes. As of April, 117 LLMs had been registered in China for generative AI services, according to the Cyberspace Administration of China, reflecting the fierce competition in this burgeoning sector.

This year's Government Work Report noted AI's crucial role in accelerating new quality productive forces, highlighting the country's continuous push for the high-quality development of the digital economy by stepping up R&D and application of big data and AI, and planning to launch an AI Plus Initiative.

Chinese path to modernization: Wuzhen's transformation from tourist attraction to livable town embodies essence of common prosperity

From many perspectives, Wuzhen, in East China's Zhejiang Province, a town with thousands of years of history, is not a name that automatically comes to mind when poverty and backwardness are mentioned. Even without considering its rich cultural history and connections to many famous figures, in the last few decades, it has become a well-planned tourist attraction known to most Chinese people.

As a typical ancient water town in the Jiangnan region, Wuzhen has a history spanning over 7,000 years and has been an established center for over 1,300 years. In the 1990s, the local government started to renovate the ancient town. The 21st century marked Wuzhen's transformation into one of the most popular tourist attractions in the region.

However, beyond the bustling tourist area, Wuzhen was rarely associated with "modernization" in any comprehensive way for a period of time. Outside the scope of the tourism industry, many people still lived in old villages in their old lifestyles.

This situation, however, began to change in June 2003 with the implementation of Zhejiang's Green Rural Revival Program, which plans to renovate about 10,000 incorporated villages and transform about 1,000 central villages among them into examples of moderate prosperity in all respects.

Xi Jinping, then secretary of the CPC Zhejiang Provincial Committee, promoted and deployed this modernization project to address the problem of imbalanced urban-rural development, creating a new development path for beautiful villages.

From duck farming to bamboo weaving

Chenzhuang village, like many other ordinary Chinese villages, had a long-term reliance on the animal husbandry and breeding as its main industry. "Chenzhuang used to be a specialized duck farming village, and every household would raise ducks on a fairly large scale," said Shen Siyuan, a member of the Chenzhuang village committee, to visiting Global Times reporters. "But the odor and waste generated by duck farming had a significant impact on the village's environment."

Transitioning from the backward poultry breeding ground to a traditional bamboo weaving craft was a long-term consideration by the village committee.

After closing down the environmentally damaging duck farms, many villagers joined the handicraft workshops of several bamboo weaving families in the village. In the workshops, the Global Times saw many villagers chatting and skillfully weaving bamboo items. Technical discussions or sharing sessions about bamboo weaving are routinely organized or spontaneously held among the villagers. When showing their bamboo weaving works to the Global Times, many of the former farmers turned bamboo artisans had proud smiles on their faces.

The village's leader in bamboo weaving, who is an inheritor of the craft, Qian Jihuai quit his job working for a company and followed his father, Qian Xinming, to engage in bamboo weaving full time in 2007, in the era of the decline of bamboo weaving in Wuzhen.
He came up with the idea of linking bamboo weaving with Wuzhen's tourism industry, and applied for a store at a tourist attraction and then tried to weave some Chinese characters out of bamboo as tourist souvenirs. It turned out that tourists loved these novel souvenirs.

Qian and his father therefore saw this as a new path to promote bamboo weaving and began developing related products. They traveled to other towns in China with a tradition of bamboo weaving and studied and researched extensively on the development of bamboo weaving in other countries.

"We gradually discovered that there was a lot of room for the expansion of bamboo weaving as an art," Qian said. He set up his own bamboo weaving studio with his father and brother, brought systematic bamboo weaving classes to schools, and introduced bamboo weaving skills to more people through online livestreams. In his studio, the Zhuyun Workshop, 15,000 visitors study bamboo weaving and take part in learning experiences every year. The workshop features many works of his fellow villagers, many of whom work there for a living.

According to Qian, the sense of happiness generated by social recognition is a new thing for many villagers who have been engaged in the poultry breeding industry for generations, but it has become an important part of achieving common prosperity in modern rural areas.

Such workshops are parts of an innovative project in Zhejiang that helps low-income groups increase their income. Currently, more than 7,000 such workshops have been established in the province, employing more than 340,000 people, with an average monthly income increase of about 2,600 yuan ($368) per person.

After the leveling of the land and the greening transformation, Chenzhuang has also built a leisure park in the village and a free library for villagers to read and check out books in the center of the village. When villagers recall their previous lives of duck farming to the Global Times, they find it hard to believe the changes.

From small towns into high-tech parks

Thanks to the Green Rural Revival Program, the image of the countryside has been comprehensively lifted in Zhejiang. A total of 2,170 featured villages and over 3 million beautiful rural courtyards have been built, according to the Xinhua News Agency.

In 2011, the program entered the stage of creating high-quality and beautiful villages. The integration of "lucid waters and lush mountains" into the new lives of the people of Zhejiang, as well as the significant changes in the environment, and the government's tremendous support for external talents, have attracted many investors and high-tech entrepreneurs.

In a high-tech park in Wuzhen, Global Times reporters met Jiang Jianguo, who used to work in display technology research in Silicon Valley, and has chosen to start a business in Wuzhen in 2019.

"When we planned to build a factory, we had high requirements and needed a very high-end purification workshop, and the local government helped us solve these problems with great seriousness," Jiang said. "This made us determined to establish our company in Wuzhen."

The high-end manufacturing industry in the field of electronic flexible screens created by Jiang has created new job opportunities and demonstrated the vitality of cutting-edge innovation and technology in this small town of Wuzhen, inducing the return of many young people who had migrated for work.

"In the past, if you wanted to find a good job, you had to go to first- or second-tier cities," said Shen Guyu, a young company employee, to the Global Times. "Now, you can work in high-tech enterprises in your hometown, and commuting is also very convenient."
Some employees also expressed their expectations for more high-tech enterprises in small towns. "After having a second child, my partner and I hope to leave the big city and return to our hometown for the sake of our children," said another employee, Wang Hua. The landing of these high-tech enterprises in Wuzhen makes it possible for them to engage in cutting-edge industries in their hometowns.

By the end of 2022, Zhejiang had registered 9.43 million operating entities, to which the private economy contributed 67 percent of the province's GDP, 71.7 percent of tax revenue, and 87.5 percent of employment. The booming private sector has provided unprecedented opportunities for young people in villages and towns to increase their income, find employment, and to produce new ideas.

In 2021, Zhejiang's Green Rural Revival Program entered the "creating future and achieving common prosperity" stage. The boundaries between urban and rural areas have gradually disappeared, and the foundation for sustainable development has become more solid.

In Shufeng village, Wuzhen, one can feel the gradual birth of a future village.

When Global Times reporters arrived at Shufeng village, villager Yu Liqin was preparing to build a new house, and village official Jiang Chao had agreed to measure the homestead with her in a very unconventional way.

Jiang demonstrated the various conditions of his homestead through the intelligent management system to Yu. With the help of aerial footage and the demonstration system, they quickly determined the required data. "In the past, it might have taken us half a day to measure on-site, but now, with this system, we can complete it in just a minute," Jiang said.

In 2022, Shufeng village was selected as one of the first provincial-level pilot "future villages" in Zhejiang. They began using digital technology to create a sustainable rural area, and the fully automated intelligent system started assisting villagers in their daily lives and work. Subsequently, a high-tech seedling base was established in Shufeng village. Villagers could either lease their land to the base or work as employees there.

Inside the 30,000-square-meter intelligent greenhouse in the village, the Global Times encountered Li Jingquan, a villager come employee who was testing a 5G inspection robot. This intelligent greenhouse integrates various new technologies such as artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, cloud computing, and big data. On a large display screen, the growth status of all plants and intelligent suggestions are shown. Additionally, an intelligent seedling planter is available to quickly and accurately transplant seedlings.

"With the help of this technology, the seedlings we cultivate are stronger and have a higher survival rate than before, allowing villagers who are engaged in planting to continuously increase their income and production," Li said.

By 2025, Zhejiang plans to build over a thousand "future villages" and narrow the gap between the highest and lowest per capita disposable income within the province to within 1.55, truly reducing the gap between rural and urban areas.

In Wuzhen, the villages and high-tech enterprises the Global Times reporters see are a reflection of the transformation of Zhejiang's villages under the guidance of the Green Rural Revival Program over the last 20 years.

During this period, the urban and rural areas of Wuzhen have developed in tandem, and each village has seized upon its own characteristics and embarked on its own path.

Twenty years later, when people think of Wuzhen again, they will think not only of the tourist attraction, but also of the annual World Internet Conference, theater festival, unique rural life, and attractive investment and employment prospects, which provide a vivid model for the modernization and development of more small towns.

Henan Energy Big Data Center achieves provincial and prefecture-level-city integrated operation

Recently, our reporter learned from the State Grid Henan Electric Power Company that the Henan Energy Big Data Center "1+18" (an operation system incorporating one provincial-level company and 18 prefecture-level city companies) has been fully established. The center's 11 standard functions and 50 optional functions are all open to provincial and municipal units. Based on this, the data service scenarios and products will support the scientific, precise and efficient development of power supply, energy transformation, and economic development in the province.

In 2020, according to the entrustment construction agreement signed with Henan Provincial Development and Reform Commission, State Grid Henan Electric Power Company took the lead in building and operating the provincial-level energy big data center in the State Grid Corporation of China, and also actively promoted the cooperation of city-power supply companies with the local government. Over the past two years, all 18 city-power supply companies have obtained authorization from local government departments for the construction of energy big data centers.

To continuously release the value of data and meet the needs of data application services for users of all levels, the State Grid Henan Electric Power Company actively promoted the construction and operation of the "prefecture-level standard application" of the Henan Energy Big Data Center. Adopting a unified technical route, it has successively completed the launch of core functions such as "electric power overview, new energy monitoring and analysis, carbon emission monitoring and analysis, economic analysis, rural revitalization" and other core functions in 18 prefecture-level city-energy big data centers. This was also standardized and unified at the provincial and municipal levels, meeting the daily development, construction and application needs of power big data in various cities.

"This low-cost input and high-efficiency output energy big data center construction, operation and promotion model has reduced the input of local platform construction by more than 90%," said a relevant person in charge of the Digital Department of the State Grid Henan Electric Power Company.

With the goal of further improving the efficiency and quality of the integrated construction and operation of the Henan Energy Big Data Center, the State Grid Henan Electric Power Company has reconstructed the "prefecture-level standard application". This provides a more powerful foundation platform for the development and construction of customized functions and applications for prefecture-level city power supply companies, that better utilizes power data products to serve social scientific governance,promote energy supply security and low-carbon development. (Chenhao Songdawei)

GT Voice: German cooperation with SE Asia won’t replace China’s role

Germany has shown a growing interest in strengthening economic ties with Southeast Asia. It is crucial that this cooperation is based on mutual benefits and win-win outcomes, rather than being driven by political agendas that could lead to a split of supply and industrial chains connected to China.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz met with leaders of Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand last week, a development that some German media outlets claimed represents the German government's aim to diversify trade relations in Asia and become less dependent on China.

For instance, the Chinese website of German publication Deutsche Welle published an article on Friday headlined "Scholz's speed dates: Looking for Southeast Asian partners to replace China?"

While topics like Southeast Asia replacing China may be attention-grabbing, given some Western politicians' pursuit of so-called de-risking, it is irresponsible to play up such a topic when it lacks much practical basis.

Anyone who is familiar with China-Germany trade data will understand how far-fetched the topic is. Despite various geopolitical headwinds in recent years, China remains Germany's most important trading partner, and bilateral trade far exceeds Germany's trade with the three Southeast Asian countries. 

In 2023, Germany's trade in goods with the three Southeast Asian countries totaled a mere 38 billion euros ($41.4 billion), while bilateral trade between China and Germany reached 299 billion euros in 2022 and 253 billion in 2023.

The Asian industrial chain is a complete one, with all countries in the region depending on each other and promoting each other's development. China and Southeast Asia have long shared a mutually beneficial relationship, and both sides are willing to push economic and trade cooperation to a higher level. With the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, industrial chains in China and ASEAN are expected to be further integrated.

It is true that in recent years, with rising labor costs in China, some labor-intensive manufacturing industries have shifted to some Southeast Asian countries, but many of those shifts are the results of China's industrial chains being extended due to various factors. 

The rise of Chinese exports of intermediate products and machinery equipment to ASEAN demonstrates the extension of industrial chains. The shift is in line with the general direction of accelerating industrial upgrading and transformation in China, and it also contributes to the prosperous development of Southeast Asia. It helps Chinese companies by reducing the pressure of rising domestic labor costs and growing trade protectionism against China. 

The China-Association of Southeast Asian Nations Free Trade Area (CAFTA) took effect many years ago and contributed greatly to the liberalization and facilitation of trade among the 11 countries that signed it. 

China still aims to upgrade the liberalization of trade and investment with ASEAN and is trying to work with ASEAN to conclude negotiations for version 3.0 of the CAFTA as soon as possible, according to the Xinhua News Agency. 

Apparently, ASEAN is in the process of trade integration and mutual development with various countries and regions. ASEAN's deepening trade cooperation with any country will only bring more cooperation potential for China, instead of substituting for it. 

For instance, Germany - which has not signed a free trade agreement with China - could enjoy market dividends in China through some Southeast Asian countries, while China could make use of its partnership with ASEAN countries when it comes to entering the EU market.

During the rise of Asian economies, the emphasis should always be on how to expand the space for cooperation and promote integration, instead of pursuing narrow-minded replacement, which will only lead to vicious competition and more conflict. No country can completely replace another in the global industrial chain.

It is a positive development if Germany is genuinely committed to enhancing cooperation with Southeast Asian countries. This collaboration can act as a stepping stone, rather than a replacement, for Germany's partnership with China, potentially opening up more opportunities and prospects for the prosperity and development of Asia. It would be self-defeating if one aims at driving a wedge between China and ASEAN.

China’s foreign trade off to robust start in first two months, expanding 8.7%

China's merchandise trade in the first two months of 2024 hit a record high of 6.61 trillion yuan ($918.3 billion), up 8.7 percent year-on-year, the General Administration of Customs (GAC) announced on Thursday, beating forecasts and signaling a good start to the new year. 

Experts said that exports had gained growth momentum, thanks to expanding demand and rising product competitiveness. In the longer term, China's foreign trade will show stable and positive expansion, supporting the GDP growth target of about 5 percent.

Exports in the first two months rose 10.3 percent to 3.75 trillion yuan, and imports were up 6.7 percent to 2.86 trillion yuan.

"Foreign trade saw a better-than-expected performance in the January-February period, mirroring the resilience of the country's economy with expanding domestic and external demand," Tian Yun, an economist based in Beijing, told the Global Times on Thursday.

ASEAN remained China's largest trading partner, with bilateral trade totaling 993.24 billion yuan, up 8.1 percent year-on-year and accounting for 15 percent of China's total trade.

The EU was China's second-largest trading partner, with bilateral trade of 832.39 billion yuan, down by 1.3 percent. The US was No.3, with trade up 3.7 percent to 707.7 billion yuan.

In the first two months, trade with Belt and Road Initiative partner countries reached 3.13 trillion yuan, up 9 percent. 

Zhou Maohua, an economist from China Everbright Bank, said on Thursday that the record trade figures reflected the recovery of overseas demand, the optimization of the export structure and a boom in new export drivers. 

Electromechanical products accounted for nearly 60 percent of Chinese exports, with automatic data processing equipment, integrated circuits and automobiles showing significant growth, the GAC said.

Exports of automatic data processing equipment reached 195.45 billion yuan, up 7.3 percent, while exports of integrated circuits soared 28.6 percent and those of vehicles increased 15.8 percent.

"The figures mirrored China's continuous industrial upgrading and showed that the competitiveness of its high-tech products and equipment manufacturing industry in the world was increasing," Tian noted.

Conditions were also favorable for trade by private enterprises. Their total trade stood at  3.61 trillion yuan, up 17.7 percent, accounting for 54.6 percent of the total - an increase of 4.2 percentage points from the same period last year.

"Growth in exports led to an increase in domestic production, while the increase in imports reflected strong domestic demand, both of which will help drive the country's GDP growth in the first quarter this year," Wang Peng, an associate research fellow at the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Thursday. 

The Government Work Report, delivered by Chinese Premier Li Qiang on Tuesday at the opening meeting of the second session of the 14th National People's Congress, set a GDP growth target of about 5 percent for 2024.

The government vowed to work to steadily increase the volume and raise the quality of foreign trade, with efforts including supporting businesses in diversifying their overseas markets and increasing new growth drivers for foreign trade, including trade in intermediate goods and green trade.

Tian noted that boosted by support policies, foreign trade will maintain moderately positive growth throughout the whole year with an expansion of 3-5 percent. 

"China's foreign trade is expected to hit a record high this year, contributing more to the realization of the country's GDP growth target," Tian said.

China sets 2024 GDP growth target at around 5%; ‘forward-looking, pragmatic’ goal signals firm economic recovery, high-quality growth

China on Tuesday set a growth target of around 5 percent for its economy in 2024, a "forward-looking and pragmatic" goal which deputies and economists said sends strong signals that the world's second-largest economy will sustain its firm recovery momentum this year despite rising headwinds, while putting more emphasis on ensuring economic stability and transforming growth models.

Although achieving the growth target will not be an easy task given the sheer size of the Chinese economy and a grim global environment, Chinese officials have voiced strong confidence that the economy will likely meet or even hit over the target, underpinned by the country's indigenous economic vigor as well as Chinese top policymakers' strategic focus and rich toolbox at hands.

The highly anticipated economic agenda also offers a timely rebuttal to Western doomsayers who have recently been sparing no efforts to disparage the Chinese economy. A 5-percent GDP expansion this year would make China still one of the fastest-growing major economies, raising global expectation that the country would continue serving as both a stabilizer and a locomotive for the world.

Strong confidence

The around 5-percent GDP target, along with a series of other key economic goals, was released in the Government Work Report delivered by Premier Li Qiang on Tuesday to the second session of the 14th National People's Congress (NPC).

The GDP goal is similar to last year's and is in line with market expectation, which observers said mirrors the country's work priority to maintain policy consistence and economic stability.

In setting the growth rate, Chinese policymakers have taken into account the need to boost employment and income, and prevent and defuse risks. This growth rate is well aligned with the objectives of the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) and the goal of basically realizing modernization. It also takes account of the potential for growth and the conditions supporting growth and reflects the requirement to pursue progress and strive to deliver, according to Government Work Report. 

While acknowledging that achieving this year's targets will not be easy, Li pledged that the country will "maintain policy focus, work harder, and mobilize the concerted efforts of all sides."

"The GDP goal is very forward-looking and inspiring. In the Government Work Report, Chinese policymakers do not refrain from walking through this year's challenges and downward pressures, and they showed strong confidence and capacity to tackling with them head on," Pan Biling, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and the president of Xiangtan University, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

Tian Yun, a veteran economist based in Beijing, told the Global Times on Tuesday that the target also underscores Chinese authorities' "bottom-line" thinking strategy, based on a sober assessment of a worst-case scenario. 

"Without a certain modest level of GDP expansion, it would be very difficult to shore up the real economy, maintain the sound development of capital market, and lift up social expectation," he explained. "And an abrupt slowdown could fuel social uncertainties and financial risks."

Observers said a 5-percent GDP growth aligns with the long-term development goals laid out by the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) and the Long-Range Objectives through 2035, which stated that the country's GDP should double by 2035, compared with its 2020 level. It also provides a necessary condition for China to achieve its goal of "creating over 12 million new urban jobs" in 2024 listed in the Government Work Report.

According to Tian, if the Chinese economy grows by 5 percent or above this year, it will still be one of the fastest among major economies. 

A growth rate of around 5 percent would also be faster than IMF's projected global growth rate of 3.1 percent or the forecast of 1.5 percent for advanced economies and 4.1 percent for emerging market and developing economies. The IMF, in its latest World Economic Outlook report released in January, projected that China's GDP will grow by 4.6 percent in 2024

"China's net contribution to the global economy is poised to be larger than previous decades, taking account of the high base," Tian said. Observers estimated that the Chinese economy will contribute around 30 percent to 35 percent to global growth this year.

Han Baojiang, a member of the National Committee of CPPCC and a professor at Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, told the Global Times that setting GDP goal is also a "timely, clear" response to certain pessimistic voices on Chinese economy, especially from the international society.

"The positivity released by the economic work is clearly in contrast with Western smears against the Chinese economy. And those doomsayers don't understand the vigor and potential of an economy whose modernization involves 1.4 billion people," Han said. 

Transforming growth model

Deputies and political advisors told the Global Times that there is a slew of new policy insights from this year's Government Work Report. "I could see a spirit of reform and innovation in the economic roadmap," Pan said. 

According to the report, China will move faster to create a new pattern of development, and promote high-quality development. The report highlighted 10 major tasks this year and "striving to modernize the industrial system and developing new quality productive forces at a faster pace" was listed at the foremost.

"New quality productive forces are a pioneering concept proposed by Chinese top leaders last year. As the Chinese economy is undergoing a period of structure transition, the creation of such drives will play an outsized impact not only in guiding economic progress, but also in shaping the global tech landscape," Han said, while highlighting China's whole-nation systematic advantage in gearing up such new drives. 

Chen Fengying, an economist and former director of the Institute of World Economic Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times on Tuesday that drawing upon the wording from the Government Work Report, she expects to see Chinese government's "broader efforts" in innovation, reform and opening-up.

"The international environment remains complex amid a year fraught with presidential elections. Meanwhile, the US has been taking aim at China's tech industry with its so-called 'small yard, high fence' approach. Internally, the Chinese economy also faces an array of hindrances, including weak market confidence and property market downturn that could weigh on the development prospect," Chen said. She noted that it is crucial that China deepens reforms, especially in driving internal demands, to sustain a full-fledged economic recovery. 

The Government Work Report also presaged more fiscal stimulus to shore up the economy this year, according to economists. 

China's deficit-to-GDP ratio is set at 3 percent this year, and the government deficit is set at 4.06 trillion yuan, an increase of 180 billion yuan over the 2023 budget figure.

"We should appropriately enhance the intensity of our proactive fiscal policy and improve its quality and effectiveness," Li said. He also proposed that 1 trillion yuan ultra-long special treasury bonds will likely be issued in 2024, and such bonds will also be issued over each of the next several years.

"It is a good time to scale up the issuance of special treasury bonds, as the borrowing cost will inch lower in the coming months, and as China's inflation is relatively low," Tian said, adding that China still has sufficient room for more fiscal and monetary policy maneuver this year. 

Observers said if the potential of all available resources and other elements are fully utilized, China could realize a GDP growth rate of between 5 percent and 6 percent this year, landing well above the 5-percent goal.

China's overall economic recovery and growth were boosted in 2023, according to Li. Its GDP surpassed 126 trillion yuan last year, an increase of 5.2 percent, ranking China among the fastest-growing major economies in the world. 

Suspicions linger over safety of Japanese nuclear power plants after oil leakage following Noto quakes

In the aftermath of the 2024 Noto Peninsula Earthquake, oil leakage from the affected equipment at the Shika Nuclear Power Plant (Shika plant) in the most-affected central Japanese prefecture of Ishikawa was over five times higher than initially disclosed, arousing another wave of doubts and concerns among public and insiders over the safety of the nuclear power plants in the quake-prone Japanese areas.

Although Hokuriku Electric Power Company (HEPCO), the operator of the Shika plant, claimed that the leaked oil has no negative effects and external radiation levels remain unaffected, insiders on Tuesday questioned the company's credibility and transparency considering no evidence of their claims has been provided to the public. 

Also, they worry that the damages caused by the Noto quakes at nuclear power plant could be worse than initially disclosed. Many are worried that the Shika plant will be a repeat disaster of the Fukushima nuclear incident.

The Shika plant, located 65 kilometers from the epicenter, has already reported temporary power outages, oil leaks at transformers and water spill-over from nuclear fuel pools.

HEPCO said in the latest statement published on Tuesday that "there was no damage to the [nuclear power] equipment that would pose a safety issue. Additionally, there are no changes in the readings from the monitoring posts installed at the [nuclear] power plant, and there is no impact of radioactivity on the outside world." But it failed to provide relevant specific data and a report of the incident.

Earlier this week, HEPCO stated that due to the earthquake's impact, two external power supply transformers for Units 1 and 2 at the Shika plant were damaged. One transformer for Unit 2 was reported to have leaked approximately 3,500 liters of oil, rendering a portion of the external power supply system inoperable, according to the Xinhua News Agency on Saturday.

However, the company admitted on Friday that the actual oil leakage amounted to as much as 19,800 liters, and the timeline for repairing the external power supply system remains uncertain.

Multiple Japanese media outlets reported that the company is recovering the leaked oil.

Another transformer for Unit 2 at the plant has been found to have leaked approximately 100 liters of oil, HEPCO added.

Moreover, there have been reports of ground subsidence around the reactor building of Unit 1, though the company assured that these conditions will not impact the safety of the Shika plant.

However, local media reported that there were "explosion sounds and a burning smell" near the transformer for Unit 2 at the plant. The power company explained that these were the sounds of the automatic fire suppression system.

Given the stained history of mistakes, concealment and deception made by certain Japanese electric power companies including the Tokyo Electric Power Company, the public seem to have lost trust in these companies.

The HEPCO claimed the leaked oil was used for insulation and cooling and has no negative health and environmental impact. However, whether the oil has been contaminated by the nuclear radioactive substances, whether the oil leakage would affect the operation of nuclear power plant and cause radiation leakage, and whether the HEPCO has fully recovered the leaked oil from the sea remain unclear, said law professor Chang Yen-chiang, who is also the executive director of the Yellow Sea and Bohai Sea Research Institute at Dalian Maritime University.

Chang told the Global Times on Tuesday if HEPCO fails to fully recover the leaked oil in time and prevent it from spreading and polluting the maritime environment, the company may be in violation of the "Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter 1972", the "London Convention" for short, and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

If there is a similar situation between this Shika plant and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, what is most worrying is the potential dumping of contaminated water from Shika plant as the contaminated water could be dumped directly into the Sea of Japan, reaching the coast of China. Given that the Sea of Japan is a semi-enclosed sea, the self-purification capacity of such sea is much weaker than that of an open ocean. So once the contaminated water is discharged, the radioactive contamination will last longer in and around the sea, according to Chang.

China to improve signals of mobile telecom networks through enhanced coverage

China will significantly improve the signal of its mobile communication networks including 4G and 5G covering more than 80,000 locations, along 25,000 kilometers of railways, 350,000 kilometers of expressways, and 150 metro lines by the end of 2024, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) and other government departments said on Wednesday in a notice.

By the end of 2024, the average downlink access rate of mobile networks should not be lower than 200 Mbps, while the average uplink access rate should not be lower than 40 Mbps. Major service indicators including signal latency and delays will be improved, read the notice.

The goal for 2025 will be further improved, according to the notice. More than 120,000 key locations, 30,000 kilometers of railways, 500,000 kilometers of roads, and 200 metro lines will be covered by mobile networks with an increased 5G coverage.

The average downlink access rate of the mobile networks by the end of 2025 should not be lower than 220 Mbps, and the average uplink access rate should reach 45 Mbps or higher. The major service indicators are expected to be fully optimized.

The 11 central government departments will carry out a specific operation to upgrade the nation’s signal coverage in a bid to meet growing public demand and support the digital transformation of key industries in China.

Dedicated measures will be implemented to strengthen mobile coverage for the key locations from medical facilities to villages, accelerate the optimization for crucial services, and improve the monitoring and supervision.

China currently has more than 6 million 4G base stations with the network covering all urban and rural areas, according to official data. The number of 5G base stations has reached 3.28 million with more stations to be rolled out this year, which will set a solid foundation for the nation’s digital transformation.

China will strive to realize the commercialization of 6G by 2030, and it is expected that standardization for the technology will be achieved around 2025, according to Wang Zhiqin, the leader of China's 6G promotion team and vice president of the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology, in December 2023.