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Li says China wants 'mutual respect' from US ahead of Alaska talks

Premier Denies 6% GDP Target Is Low, Insists Beijing Cooperated With WHO

2021-03-11T111709Z_1793227273_RC2Z8M98067G_RTRMADP_3_CHINA-PARLIAMENT (1)
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is displayed on a screen during a news conference held via video link, following the closing session of the National People's Congress in Beijing on March 11.   © Reuters

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Thursday called for the U.S. and his own country to respect one another's national interests, ahead of a high-level bilateral meeting in Alaska next week.

Li was speaking to reporters after the closing of the annual National People's Congress in Beijing, where lawmakers approved bills and development plans designed to sustain economic growth in the aftermath of COVID-19.

"We hope the two sides will respect each other's core interests and major concerns, refrain from interfering in each other's internal affairs, and strive to sustain healthy development of China-U.S. relations," Li said. He stressed the powers should adhere to "the principles of no-conflict, no-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation."

His remarks came a week before Yang Jiechi, head of the Chinese Communist Party's Central Foreign Affairs Commission, and Foreign Minister Wang Yi are scheduled to visit Alaska on March 18 and 19. They are to meet U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan for the first such talks under the Joe Biden administration.

So far, Biden's team has largely maintained a hardline stance toward Beijing, picking up where former President Donald Trump left off.

But Li said dialogue is important despite differences.

"Even if we cannot work everything out anytime soon, such an exchange of views will help boost trust and dispel misgivings," the premier said.

On economic development, Li explained that China is not looking to tighten monetary policy. Some economists consider the country's growth target for 2021 -- above 6% -- modest considering the low base in pandemic-marred 2020, but the premier rejected this notion.

"The 6% GDP target is not a low target," Li said, saying the government was leaving open the possibility of delivering faster growth.

China still faces "great employment pressure," Li explained, as about 14 million people are expected to join the workforce this year, including 9 million fresh graduates. "We need to maintain the continuity and sustainability of our policies, and work to stabilize the economy and boost its growth."

In the 2021 budget passed by the NPC on Thursday, China aimed to create over 11 million jobs and keep the unemployment rate at 5.5%, slightly above last year's 5.2%.

Meanwhile, Li denied allegations that China failed to share crucial data with the expert team sent by the World Health Organization to probe the origins of COVID-19.

"China has maintained communications with the WHO and supported WHO experts in carrying out traceability research in China," he said.

The WHO is expected to release a report next week on its monthlong mission to Wuhan between January and February.