China's NPC wraps with focus on future industries, national security

China's week-long National People's Congress (NPC) has concluded with an emphasis on "future industries" and national security, despite the absence of the customary press conference by the country's premier. Some 3,000 delegates from the political, business and cultural elite attended this year's meeting, held at the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square.

Last week, it was announced that Li Qiang would not be speaking to journalists, breaking a trend of addressing the press dating back to 1993. This comes as China faces challenges in terms of economic growth. Still, the country hopes to pursue economic benefits from new technologies such as electric vehicles and commercial space flights.

Additionally, while China maintains that its defence budget will increase by 7.2 per cent in 2024, discussions around national security were notably more assertive this year. Li Qiang's work report cited the need to strengthen national security laws and establish a security committee.

While the theme of future industries and national security emerged from this year's NPC, some observers note that China's increased military spending could fuel fears among neighbouring countries. China's defence budget has more than doubled since 2015, but still trails behind spending by the US, Japan, and other countries in the region.

Internal challenges related to the country's economy were also addressed during this year's NPC. Officials gave frank assessments of the difficulties ahead for the country's property market. Despite the absence of new announcements, officials from some state provinces met with bankers on the sidelines of the Congress.

Looking outward, China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi held a press conference on the sidelines of the NPC. He spoke on China's relations with the US, Russia, and Israel, among other topics. China's relations with the US softened since the meeting between Presidents Xi and Biden, with Wang describing China-US relations as "improving". He also defended China's closer relationship with Russia, citing a "strategic choice", and voicing support for Palestine at the United Nations.

Despite this, Li Qiang's absence from press representation has left a gap in understanding China's place in the world. At a time when the country is facing domestic and international challenges, the void of press representation may exacerbate uncertainties and fears among the international community.

This year's NPC leaves attendees and observers with more questions than answers about China's future domestic and international priorities. With greater transparency and communication, China could project its vision with clarity and confidence to the world.

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