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Premier Li Keqiang meets the media after the NPC's annual session closes

China Daily | Updated: 2018-03-21 07:34

Guangming Daily: Mr Premier, the reform of China's healthcare system has made good strides in recent years, but often a major illness can still land a family in severe difficulty. What steps will the new government take to address the problem of illness-induced poverty?

Premier Li: In the past few years, we have made enormous efforts to improve the basic health insurance system. A medical insurance safety net, the largest of its kind in the world, has been put in place to treat both minor and serious illnesses. This being said, some families living in poverty or those who have difficulty accessing quality medical resources do face the kind of problems that you mentioned. A lot of such cases are reported in the new media.

China is a vast country; we still have some 30 million people living in poverty. The Communist Party of China Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core gives high priority to poverty eradication and has made the pledge of winning the fight against poverty. Among the impoverished population, many are pushed or have fallen back into poverty because of a serious disease. The government, while improving the basic healthcare system, has given greater attention to the treatment of serious diseases. We have adopted some innovative measures; for example, we have complemented basic health insurance with commercial insurance programs. By harnessing the law of large numbers, such an arrangement has produced an amplifying effect of the insurance funds and extended the coverage of serious disease insurance to 17 million people last year.

This year, we plan to do more. We will raise central government subsidies for basic medical insurance programs, and half of the increase will go to serious disease insurance. Our aim is to cover at least 20 million people and more types of serious diseases in the insurance program. What's more, we will encourage the development of telemedicine and healthcare consortiums to make quality medical resources more accessible at the community level.

During my inspection trip on the eve of this year's Spring Festival, I dropped in on a poor family and met an elderly woman there who was seriously ill. Although she had insurance coverage, the family still found the treatment unaffordable. Their plight is still vivid in my memory. A Chinese saying compares a major illness to a mountain falling down. When such an illness strikes, it is our hope that the family will still find protection. That's the very purpose of us having a major illness insurance program and other similar mechanisms.

TBS: This year marks the 40th anniversary of the China-Japan Peace and Friendship Treaty. Mr Premier, when you met Foreign Minister Taro Kono in January, you have said the relationship is warming up but there are still some cold parts left. If so, what more should both sides do for the relationship to fully recover? And in the upcoming occasion of a trilateral summit including the Republic of Korea, would you intend to accept the invitation for your first official visit to Japan and will that be the start of the reciprocal visits by the two countries' leaders?

Premier Li: We have seen signs of improvement in China-Japan relations lately. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has invited me on several occasions to visit Japan. In an atmosphere of continuously improving ties, I would be ready to positively consider paying an official visit to Japan while attending the China-Japan-ROK Leaders' Meeting there in the first half of this year.

Improvement of China-Japan relations requires not just the right atmosphere, but also vision and commitment. Exchange of visits at the leadership level will help get this relationship back on the track of steady development, but we must look to consolidate the foundation of China-Japan relations rather than just make a one-time deal. There needs to be sustained, steady progress of this relationship. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the China-Japan Treaty of Peace and Friendship. It's important to honor the spirit and the consensus reached in the four Sino-Japanese political documents including the Treaty of Peace and Friendship. If we have seen a spring in China-Japan relationship, we must also watch out for any possible return of chills. We need to work together for the sustained, steady development of this relationship. That is what is expected of Japan.

Xinhua News Agency: The Internet Plus model has been widely used in recent years and there is a boom in the sharing economy. Meanwhile, in this process some problems have cropped up, and their development may face some hurdles in the future. How do you see the situation, Mr Premier? And what will the government do to promote further development of the Internet Plus model?

Premier Li: In recent years the Internet Plus model has played an important role in promoting the steady growth of China's economy, like a new sail being installed on the big ship riding the wave of a new round of global technological revolution. Transformed government functions have helped to energize the market. Consumption has become the biggest driver of China's development, and there has been a fundamental change in China's economic structure. All this interconnected progress, together with the new drivers, has enabled the Chinese economy to defy repeated predictions of a hard landing and sustain a sound momentum of economic growth.

The Internet Plus model has not just fostered new drivers of growth, but also provided the largest platform for the sharing economy, giving opportunity for our people to pursue their own entrepreneurship and make innovations. It has made a big difference in China's economic and social development and profoundly changed the way we work and live. In this context, technological professionals, businesspeople and ordinary people can all tap into their unique potential and have the opportunities to prove their talents.

As a new phenomenon, Internet Plus may also have its own problems. In this process, we need to maximize its benefits while taking care to address its possible downsides. In exercising regulation over new things, we believe the government needs to adopt a prudent yet accommodative approach. We should neither shut them down once problems occur, which would be the easier thing to do, nor allow the Internet Plus model to become a hotbed for cheating and manipulation. We should guard against both of these risks.

As the next step, we will adopt more measures to encourage the growth of this model. For example, Chinese internet companies tend to get listed overseas. What we plan to do is to improve the conditions for them to return to the mainland markets. We will also create conditions in keeping with the law for our mainland high-tech or innovation companies to get listed on the mainland markets. We need to further develop the Internet Plus model by applying smart technologies to education, healthcare, government services and other services sectors to promote fast and sound growth of the digital economy and the sharing economy. We need to both follow existing patterns and think outside the box in developing these models.

Phoenix TV of Hong Kong: Mr Premier, in your Government Work Report this year, you said efforts will be made to develop the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, support Hong Kong and Macao in integrating their own development into overall national development and further enhance the mutually beneficial cooperation between the mainland and these two regions. But some people in Hong Kong feel somewhat worried whether this will undercut Hong Kong's unique role, or affect the implementation of "one country, two systems", or even blur the line between the two systems. How would you respond to that?

Premier Li: We want to build the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area into a world-class city cluster with the three places drawing upon each other's comparative strengths; otherwise, this Greater Bay Area would not be competitive internationally. The outline for the development program is being formulated and will be adopted for implementation. For people from Hong Kong and Macao who come to work or live on the mainland, especially in Guangdong province, we will gradually introduce the same treatment for them as mainlanders in terms of housing, education and transportation, among others. We would also like to share such opportunities with people from Taiwan.

We encourage Hong Kong and Macao to integrate their own development into overall national development. In this process, we will continue to observe the principle of "one country, two systems" under which the people of Hong Kong administer Hong Kong, the people of Macao administer Macao, and both regions enjoy a high degree of autonomy. As there can be mutually beneficial cooperation and common development between different countries, there is even more reason for the three places that belong to one and the same country to do so. Under the guidance of the "one country, two systems" principle, we are confident that these three areas will draw upon each other's strengths and work together in building a new and strong region of vibrant growth.

China Radio International: Mr Premier, given the aging of the Chinese population, quality and inexpensive elderly care is woefully lacking. It was also reported last year that a Chinese province ran behind its pension payouts, raising concerns about similar problems in other provinces. How should this problem be addressed and what will the government do to ensure adequate elderly support for the over 200 million senior citizens in China?

Premier Li: It's already lunchtime, and your question is also about a livelihood issue. We must ensure that old-age pensions will be paid in full and on time. The problem that you described did happen in certain provinces last year. I have made a point of raising the issue of pension payouts each time I have visited old industrial bases or held discussions with the delegates during this year's two sessions. The difficulties that some provinces face are mainly due to the decline in their fiscal revenues at the time of local economic downturn. But they have taken multiple steps to address the issue, such as putting to better use State-owned assets or adjusting the structure of government expenditure. The central government has also provided some funding support for this.

Despite the difficulties faced by some provinces, at the national level, we are capable of making pension payments in full and on time. As of the end of last year, the balance of China's pension insurance funds for urban workers stood at over 4.1 trillion yuan, and we had more revenues than expenditures. We also have 1.8 trillion yuan in social security fund as a strategic reserve, which is still increasing. So we are fully capable of ensuring full and timely payment of pension benefits nationwide.

We will continue to pursue reform in this area. This year, we plan to establish a central system of pension fund provisions that can be transferred to provinces in case of need. The initial contribution rate for all provinces will be 3 percent, which means each province will contribute 3 percent of their funds to the central provision to be used to fill the shortfalls that some provinces may face. In addition, we will use some of the State-owned asset proceeds to replenish the national social security fund to make it safer and more profitable. These measures will help to deliver stronger old-age support to senior people in China. We should give people confidence in the future. Think about it, if decades of hard work cannot earn one a decent retirement life, our future generations will lose faith in us.

We should never see senior people as a liability, though. There are still so many things that they can do, and a retired life can also offer tremendous business opportunities and turn out to be an important industry. That said, we will never shirk the government's due responsibility in extending adequate old-age support.

Just now the moderator said this is going to be the last question. I recall that previously we also addressed several questions related to people's livelihood. Under the guidance of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, we will continue to put people first. The efforts made by a people's government boils down to the purpose of serving our people's well-being and improving their lives. We will continue to take strong measures to ensure people's basic living needs, address their pressing concerns, make more quality resources available, and deliver more concrete benefits to our people.

Chutian Metropolis Daily: Mr Premier, how much will the personal income tax threshold be raised?

Premier Li: We will start the relevant process expeditiously and the procedures will be handled in accordance with law.

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