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China People's Congress

Beijing drops 'Made in China 2025' from government report

Li Keqiang toes around controversial program in nod to US

Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the opening session of this year's National People's Congress in Beijing on Tuesday. (Photo by Taro Yokosawa)

BEIJING -- Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was conspicuously silent on the "Made in China 2025" initiative as he spoke at the opening session of the National People's Congress, the country's parliament, on Tuesday, in a likely acknowledgment of harsh U.S. criticism against Beijing's pet industry-building program.

This is the first time Li stayed silent on the program in his annual report to the congress since 2015, when he first introduced it. He mentioned it twice in last year's report. Other top officials and state news media have already been shying away from the topic for some time.

Made in China 2025, a state-led industrial policy that seeks to make China dominant in global high-tech manufacturing, has come under fire, not least for its massive government subsidies to its industries. It is one of the key sticking points in China's trade talks with the U.S.

But the shedding of the 2025 plan could be in name only. In his 100-minute-plus speech, Li touched on many aspects of Made in China 2025, including pledging to invest heavily in emerging industries such as next-generation information technology, high-end equipment, biomedicine, and new energy automobiles.

Talking of "high-quality manufacturing," Li said the government needs to boost technological innovation capability, as well as enhance the integrated development of advanced manufacturing and modernized services.

Huang Shouhong, director of the State Council Research Office who helped draft Li's remarks, downplayed the significance of the omission of the plan. "We didn't have space. There are many things we do or don't mention depending on the year, and Made in China 2025 is no different," he told reporters Tuesday.

Rumi Aoyama, a professor at Waseda University in Tokyo, said: "Although China's diplomatic strategy remain the same, it seems to be trying a new approach. It is downplaying the government's role to ease U.S. and European concerns."

On the omission of the Made in China 2025, Aoyama said it also probably reflected the criticism at home toward President Xi Jinping's foreign policy, which has grown over China's trade war with the U.S. "But Beijing will still continue to build its influence on the global stage through its Belt and Road initiative and other efforts," she said.

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