[OPINION] CEWC 2024: China's strategic blueprint

By Kim Joo-heon Posted : December 21, 2023, 17:24 Updated : December 22, 2023, 08:02
Dr Imran Khalid
[Dr. Imran Khalid]
[This article was contributed by Dr. Imran Khalid, a freelance writer based in Karachi, Pakistan. He was qualified as a physician from Dow Medical University in Karachi in 1991, and has a master's degree in international relations from Karachi University.]

KARACHI -- As China charts its course for 2024, the palpable resonance from Beijing is a resounding commitment to prioritize high-quality development. The recently concluded Central Economic Work Conference (CEWC), the most important policy-making event for 2024 and beyond, underscored the centrality of economic growth and high-quality development in China's political agenda. The conference has delineated the economic policy for the upcoming year, emphasizing comprehensive reform, heightened openness, and the consolidation of foreign trade and investment foundations.

The directive underscores the imperative of constructing a modern industrial system propelled by scientific and technological innovations. Additionally, it stresses the resilience of industry and supply chains. Analysts interpret the expression as a manifestation of policymakers' confidence and determination to stabilize economic growth while advancing high-quality development through novel growth drivers. The focal points include scientific and technological innovation, endogenous driving forces, effective macro policies, and demand expansion efficiency.

Against the backdrop of heightened uncertainties and formidable geopolitical challenges, the leadership in Beijing has affirmed its commitment to fostering a robust and stable economic landscape. The proclamation emanating from the conference is a reflection to China's focus on growth, echoing the sentiment that economic prosperity stands as the linchpin of its political priorities. A strategic orchestration of pro-growth policies takes center stage, signaling a deliberate effort to manage the complex terrain of contemporary geopolitics.

Importantly, this dedication goes beyond conventional economic spheres, stretching into non-economic domains as well. The comprehensive coordination, encompassing diverse sectors, reflects a holistic approach aimed at fortifying the nation's economic foundations. In the face of unpredictable global dynamics, China's emphasis on stability has emerged as a strategic imperative, aligning its economic policies to withstand headwinds. The pledge to enhance coordination, both within economic spheres and across non-economic sectors, illustrates a pragmatic strategy.

This multifaceted approach seeks not only to bolster economic indicators but also to cultivate an environment conducive to sustained stability. The tone-setting conference acknowledged the commendable recovery and high-quality development achieved by China's economy in 2023. While recognizing this progress, it also candidly addressed the existing challenges that demand attention for further economic revitalization. The outlined obstacles include insufficient effective demand, sectors grappling with overcapacity, and subdued social expectations.

Emphasizing a pragmatic approach, the conference stressed the prevalence of favorable conditions outweighing unfavorable factors in China's developmental landscape. Looking ahead to the economic agenda for the upcoming year, the conference articulated a strategic vision. It called for a balanced pursuit of progress and stability, advocating for the consolidation of stability through continuous progress.

This year's CEWC has focused a paramount political task: advancing Chinese modernization. Emphasizing the significance of economic construction and the primary goal of achieving high-quality development, the conference articulated a grand blueprint for transforming Chinese modernization into a tangible reality. In order to expedite the generation of fresh momentum for foreign trade, solidify the foundational structure of both foreign trade and investment and broaden the scope of intermediate cross-border e-commerce, the conference emphasized the continuous establishment of a market-oriented and globally attuned business environment.

It accentuated the importance of removing impediments to foreign engagement in China, spanning business, education and tourism. The comprehensive implementation of eight measures supporting high-quality Belt and Road cooperation was also stressed. China's recent policy initiatives, both preceding and following the CEWC, reflect its commitment to not only bolstering its open economy but also elevating the quality of this openness. Key measures include the strategic enhancement of institutional openness within the China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone, aligning it more closely with international economic and trade norms.

The pivotal 24th China-EU Summit and the protocol to enhance the China-Singapore Free Trade Agreement exemplify China's proactive engagement in global economic affairs. Additionally, the implementation of a visa-free policy for select nationals, contingent on specific conditions, reinforces China's intention to nurturing international collaboration and facilitating cross-border interactions. These concerted efforts reflect China's strategic intent for a more interconnected and dynamic global economic landscape.

At the same time, the CEWC has emphasized the imperative of addressing and mitigating risks in crucial sectors, such as real estate, local government debt and small- to medium-sized financial institutions. With regard to the real estate industry, the meeting prioritized the equitable fulfillment of the reasonable financing needs of real estate enterprises of varying ownership structures, coupled with an expeditious implementation of a new development model.

Despite sensationalized portrayals by some Western media outlets, analysts contend that the meeting's communication reflected the confidence and adeptness of top officials in managing these challenges and ensuring a steady economic recovery. The clarity in identifying these challenges and the proactive strategies employed instill confidence that China is well-equipped to overcome these obstacles and secure a resilient and stable economic trajectory. China's economic agenda, as articulated in the final readout of the CEWC, accentuates the pivotal role of expanding domestic demand, ranking second in its hierarchy of focus. The emphasis lies on cultivating a reciprocal relationship between consumption and investment, creating a virtuous cycle.

The noteworthy addition is the concept of "consumption with potentials," encompassing sectors experiencing burgeoning demand like healthcare, elderly care and the digital economy. China's economic strategy takes a nuanced turn by prioritizing the expansion of domestic demand and stimulating untapped consumption potential. The meeting emphasized a seamless transition from post-pandemic recovery to sustained expansion, urging the cultivation of new consumption patterns. Digital, green and health-focused consumption are focal points, coupled with the active development of emerging consumption sectors like smart homes, entertainment, tourism, sports events, and innovative Chinese products.

This recalibration aligns with evolving global trends and positions China at the forefront of cultivating diverse and forward-looking consumer behaviors, contributing to the resilience and adaptability of its economic landscape. Simultaneously, the call for productive investment aligns with the objective of developing new avenues for consumption growth. This strategic shift recognizes the escalating significance of consumption, contributing 83.2 percent to China's economic growth in the initial three quarters, a trend highlighted by a surge in the express delivery sector, handling a record 120 billion parcels.

Furthermore, the evolution of China's foreign trade dynamics is conspicuous, with solar batteries, lithium-ion batteries, and electric vehicles eclipsing traditional drivers like apparel and furniture. The robust 41.7 percent YoY surge in the export value of these tech-intensive green products during the first three quarters explains China's adaptability and prowess in shaping contemporary global trade landscapes. China, holding the second-largest global economy status, has not only sustained its remarkable growth pattern but also exhibited robust development in cutting-edge technologies.

Emerging industries from China are pioneering on the global stage, attesting to the country's economic vitality. Despite Western speculations of collapse, China has consistently defied such theories through practical achievements. The core of China's success lies in its unwavering adherence to high-quality development. This single-minded commitment positions China as a powerhouse focused on progress and prosperity.
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