What is driving the tension in Hong Kong and China

Despite the global recession caused by the corona pandemic, China wants to achieve strong economic growth of "more than six percent" this year. In order to become more independent from abroad, Prime Minister Li Keqiang emphasized on Friday at the opening of the annual meeting of the People's Congress in Beijing that the development of the domestic economy must be "given priority". The company's own innovation should also be promoted much more strongly than before in order to reduce technological dependencies.

The plenary session of the Chinese parliament will focus on the economic goals and budget for this year, the new five-year plan from 2021 to 2025 and a controversial electoral reform for Hong Kong. Beijing wants to curtail the already limited democracy in the Chinese special administrative region even further. The meeting of almost 3,000 delegates this year is shorter than usual and will only last until next Thursday.

Before the deliberations, all participants in the congress and the consultative conference that took place at the same time were vaccinated. In his speech at the beginning of the session of the consultative conference, which was also attended by state and party leader Xi Jinping, Chairman Wang Yang emphasized the principle that Hong Kong should only be governed by "patriots".

Loopholes for pro-democratic forces are to be closed

After the controversial security law was passed last year, electoral reform is another blow to Hong Kong's liberal system. The spokesman did not give details. But the point is to limit the influence of pro-democratic forces by closing "loopholes", as reported by state media.

A Beijing-controlled body could screen all candidates to ensure they stand behind Beijing. It was also suggested that the committee for the election of the Hong Kong head of government be reorganized. Representatives of professional and business associations loyal to Beijing already occupy the 1200-member committee. According to the plans outlined, the 117 Hong Kong district councils that have been represented so far and belong to the democratic camp could no longer belong to it in the future.

The plans have met with sharp criticism in Hong Kong and abroad. The chairwoman of the Bundestag Human Rights Committee, Gyde Jensen (FDP), said: "With this patriotic law, Xi Jinping is de facto burying democracy in Hong Kong." From Beijing's point of view, only those who follow the line of the Communist Party are "patriotic".

China continues to invest more heavily in the military

The growth target of more than six percent for the second largest economy came as a surprise. In the previous year, the Prime Minister had refrained from making such a requirement as usual due to the uncertainties caused by the pandemic. In 2020, despite the slump in the economy, 2.3 percent growth was achieved, especially at the beginning of the year. As the world went into recession, China was the only major economy that posted growth. Beijing responded to the crisis with a massive economic stimulus package. The International Monetary Fund expects China to grow by as much as 8.1 percent this year.

Amid growing tensions with the US, India, Taiwan and the controversial South China Sea, China will increase its military spending by 6.8 percent this year. This means that spending on the military is growing faster than the overall budget. In the previous year, the increase was already 6.6 percent despite the Corona crisis.

"The military's strategic capabilities to protect the sovereignty, security and development interests of our country are being strengthened," said Premier Li Keqiang in his speech. As an important part of the country's "great renewal", China's head of state and party leader Xi Jinping is massively promoting the modernization of the armed forces. "That includes being a leader in the world in terms of international influence and having a first-class military that can fight and win wars," said Helena Legarda, an expert at the China Merics Institute in Berlin.

Because of the ongoing billions in spending, the prime minister announced that the budget deficit as a percentage of economic output this year, at 3.2 percent, will again be above the critical mark of three percent. In the previous year it was 3.6 percent.

Innovation and digitization

An important realignment is the concept of "two cycles", with which the domestic economic circulation is to be promoted. China wants to make itself more independent because of the sanctions imposed by the USA and the global crisis. As part of the five-year plan, the strategy is to "expand domestic demand, intensify structural reforms on the supply side and generate new demand with innovation-driven development and high-quality offers," said Li Keqiang.

Innovation remains at the heart of the modernization offensive. "We will strengthen our science and technology to strategically support China's development," said Li Keqiang in his hour-long report. The digitization of the country should also be accelerated further. One will "work faster to develop a digital society, a digital government and a healthy digital ecosystem".