China sets growth target 'over 6%,' tightening HK control

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Chinese Premier Li Keqiang delivers a speech during the opening session of China's National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, March 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

BEIJING – China’s No. 2 leader set a healthy economic growth target Friday and vowed to make the nation self-reliant in technology amid tension with the U.S. and Europe over trade and human rights. Another official announced plans to tighten control over Hong Kong by reducing the public's role in government.

The ruling Communist Party aims for growth of “over 6%” as the world's second-largest economy rebounds from the coronavirus, Premier Li Keqiang said in a speech to the National People's Congress, China’s ceremonial legislature. About 3,000 delegates gathered for its annual meeting, the year’s highest-profile political event, under intense security and anti-virus controls. It has been shortened from two weeks to one because of the pandemic.

The party is shifting back to its longer-term goal of becoming a global competitor in telecoms, electric cars and other profitable technology. That is inflaming trade tension with Washington and Europe, which complain Beijing's tactics violate its market-opening commitments and hurt foreign competitors.

Li promised progress in reining in climate-changing carbon emissions, a step toward keeping President Xi Jinping's pledge last year to become carbon-neutral by 2060. But he avoided aggressive targets that might weigh on economic growth.

The NPC meeting focuses on domestic issues but is overshadowed by geopolitics as Xi’s government pursues more assertive trade and strategic policies and faces criticism over its treatment of Hong Kong and ethnic minorities. The ruling party has doubled down on crushing dissent as Xi tries to cement his image as a history-making leader reclaiming China’s rightful place as a global power.

An NPC deputy chairman, Wang Chen, said a Hong Kong Election Committee dominated by businesspeople and other pro-Beijing figures will be given a bigger role in choosing the territory’s legislature. Wang said the Election Committee would choose a “relatively large” share of the now 70-member Legislative Council.

That came after a spokesman for the legislature on Thursday said Beijing wants “patriots ruling Hong Kong,” fueling fears opposition voices will be shut out of the political process.

Li, the premier, said Beijing wants to “safeguard national security” in Hong Kong.