|Premier Li Keqiang Meets the Press|
On the morning of 13 March 2014, the Second Session of the Twelfth National People's Congress held a press conference at the Great Hall of the People. Premier Li Keqiang of the State Council met with Chinese and foreign press at the invitation of Fu Ying, spokesperson of the NPC Session.
At the beginning of the press conference, Premier Li Keqiang said: Friends from the press, I want to thank you for your interest in and coverage of the NPC and CPPCC Sessions. My appreciation goes to all of you for your hard work. Now I would be happy to take your questions.
CNN: Premier Li, my question pertains to the missing airplane of Malaysia Airlines. First of all, our sympathy goes to the families of the passengers and crew members of MH370. It's day 6 now and there is confusion and frustration. What's your reaction to the current situation? What is China doing to harness all your resources, civilian, military, satellite imaging to assist in the search and rescue? And down the road, how will this incident impact China's attitude and policies on opening-up including inbound and outbound tourism? What measures will you take to ensure the safety of Chinese citizens in and outside China? Will you tighten up the already tight security? Thank you.
Li Keqiang: There are 239 people on board the missing plane of Malaysia Airlines, including the 154 Chinese passengers. Those people's families and friends are burning with anxiety. The Chinese government and Chinese people are deeply concerned about their safety. We are all eagerly awaiting news about the plane, even the slightest piece of good news.
The Chinese government has activated a comprehensive contingency response and search operation. Currently there are eight Chinese vessels in the related waters and one Chinese vessel is on its way. Ten satellites are being used to provide information and technical support. We will not give up on any suspected clue.
I had a telephone conversation yesterday with a captain of one of the Chinese vessels in the search operation, and asked him to do his utmost. We are looking very closely at all suspected clues shown on the satellite images. This is a large international search operation involving many countries. The Chinese government has asked relevant parties to enhance coordination, investigate the cause, locate the missing plane and properly handle all related matters. As long as there is a glimmer of hope, we will not stop searching for the plane.
With respect to China's opening-up policy, there will be no change with the policy and China will continue to open itself to the outside world. In this course, a growing number of Chinese people will make overseas trips. That will place greater responsibility on the Chinese government. The Chinese government will fully perform its duties and enhance cooperation with other countries and regions to ensure safety of overseas Chinese nationals.
As for flight safety, we have never let up our effort in ensuring flight safety as there is nothing more important than human life.
Financial Times: The international community is following very closely China's financial and debt risks, regarding this as one of the highest risks for the global economy. What will the Chinese government do to tackle such risks? Is the government willing to see default of financial products?
Li Keqiang: I've got your question very clear as you speak very good Chinese, but this is a press conference for both Chinese and foreign journalists, so we still need the translation.
There is such a view that the Chinese economy is confronted with risks, and I have read such reports which are not optimistic about the Chinese economy. They bear resemblance to the past bearish talk about the Chinese economy. For example, there was this concern last year about China's economic downturn. Yet in spite of the pressure, we achieved our goal set for economic growth.
We pay very high attention to the financial and debt risks. Faced with increased downward pressure on the economy last year, we conducted a comprehensive audit on government debt. That shows that the Chinese government has faced up to this challenge. We have released to the public the audit result as it is. And it shows that the risks are on the whole under control. Moreover, our debt to GDP ratio is below the internationally recognized warning line, and most of the debt takes the form of investment. But the government will not overlook potential risks. We are going to intensify regulatory steps, put those debts under budgetary management over time and enhance the oversight of financing vehicles. In a word, we are going to keep the front gate open and block side doors.
As for financial risks such as shadow banking, we have tightened regulatory measures, set a timetable and started to apply the Basel III requirements. When I participated in the panel discussion during the two Sessions, a deputy from the banking sector said to me: Isn't the capital adequacy ratio in China a bit too high? After all, we are still a developing country. But this is a must for us, as we don't want to let today's stepping stone become tomorrow's stumbling block.
As for default of financial products, how could I want to see such thing happen? Yet I'm afraid certain individual cases of such defaults are hardly avoidable. What we should do is to step up monitoring, promptly handle relevant situation and ensure that there will be no regional and systemic financial risks.
People's Daily: There is a widely shared concern in the society as to whether this recent anti-corruption campaign will be a short-lived one. Last year, many corrupt officials were dealt with, but does this show there exist some institutional flaws in China? What new steps will the government take to combat corruption?
Li Keqiang: The Communist Party of China and the Chinese government have a firm will and resolve to fight corruption. This is our consistent position. Since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, the CPC Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping as General Secretary has been steadfast in combating corruption and holding corrupt officials accountable. New progress has been made in this regard and we will carry forward this campaign with perseverance.
For corrupt behaviors and corrupt officials, we will show zero tolerance. China is a country under the rule of law. No matter who he is and how senior his position is, if he violates Party discipline and law of the country, he will be seriously dealt with and punished to the full extent of the law, because everybody is equal before the law.
Corruption is the natural enemy of a people's government. We must apply the rule of law in both thinking and action in fighting corruption. And we must put the exercise of power and use of public money under institutional check. This year, we will continue to streamline administration and delegate government power. We are going to release to the public a list of powers as quickly as possible and set down a clear boundary for the exercise of power to prevent power abuse.
We will also carry out comprehensive audits in those areas which are of high concern to the public, including the revenue on the transfer of land use rights and transfer of mining rights. We will take institutional steps to ensure that rent-seeking behaviors and corruption have nowhere to hide.
Lianhe Zaobao of Singapore: Last year, Chinese leaders visited many neighboring countries and put forward new vision on China's neighborhood diplomacy and cooperation initiatives. But still there exist some disputes and differences in China's neighborhood. I would like to ask how do you see China's future relations with its neighbors?
Li Keqiang: You speak mandarin even better. But still we need the translation. I hope to have your understanding.
China is still a developing country. To achieve modernization of the country represents the common aspiration of the 1.3 billion Chinese people. This requires a peaceful and stable neighboring and international environment. I recall that approaching the end of last year's press conference, I once said that China has an abiding commitment to pursuing peaceful development. We also have an unshakable will in safeguarding China's sovereignty and territorial integrity. These two points are both for the sake of upholding stability and creating a favorable environment for China's development.
As early as 60 years ago, China and some of its neighbors had jointly initiated the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. When neighbors interact with each other, it's only natural that sometimes they will run into problems of one kind or another. But as long as they respect each other, properly manage differences and pursue mutual benefit, there will be harmonious sounds instead of jarring noises.
Your question reminds me of my visit to some ASEAN countries last year. During my visit in Vietnam, I reached principled consensus with the Vietnamese leaders about China-Vietnam cooperation in maritime joint development, on the land and in the financial sector. I was curious about how the ordinary people would think about this. So later in the evening, I took some time out of the schedule and visited a small local shop. The shopowner instantly recognized me and she said that she would like to have more Chinese customers. They would bring more businesses to her shop. I asked her how she thought about China's relationship with its neighbors. She said there should be peace and friendship. Peace, friendship and peaceful co-existence, I believe, represent the common aspirations of all people in China and its neighbors. As long as we all work together to expand common interests and narrow differences, we can live with each other in harmony, bringing greater benefits to our people.
Reuters: China's economy grew at 7.7% last year. In the past year since you became Chinese premier, what do you think is the biggest challenge and difficulty and what are the pressing issues that need to be resolved?
Li Keqiang: I truly admire all these resident journalists of foreign media in China for speaking Chinese so well.
The biggest challenge last year was the increased downward pressure on our economy. Central government revenue registered negative growth at one point. There was the so-called "money squeeze" in the financial sector last June. Inter-bank lending rate exceeded 13%. And there was a slump in the growth of electricity consumption and cargo transport volume. There was this view in the international community that the Chinese economy would suffer a hard landing and China's growth would drop to 3-4%. Moreover, we had only very limited room for manoeuvre in carrying out fiscal and monetary policies, and we were faced with multiple tough choices in exercising macro-control.
Under such conditions, what should we do? When confronted with mounting challenges, one needs to show guts. To tackle a difficult situation, one needs to have wisdom. We held our ground. We pursued creative thinking and ways in exercising macro-control and set a proper range for China's economic operation. That is to say, we worked to ensure that GDP growth and employment would not slide below the lower limit and inflation would not exceed the upper limit. We focused our efforts on boosting reform and making structural adjustment to ensure that the market will play a strong role. Under the leadership of the CPC Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping as General Secretary and thanks to the concerted efforts of the entire Chinese people, we faced the pressure down and met our targets.
Now what is on top of our mind is the existing difficulties and problems. We will confront serious challenges this year, and some may be even more complex. We need to keep steady growth, ensure employment, avert inflation and defuse risks. We also need to raise the quality and efficiency of China's economic development and tackle pollution. So we need to strike a proper balance amidst all these goals and objectives. This is not going to be easy.
But the thing we have to fear is not the difficulty itself, but lack of preparedness, just as only a sharpened axe can cut through firewood. We will face up to the difficulties and challenges and make the most of the favorable conditions while averting unfavorable ones. This holds the secret to our success. Moreover, we gained good experience from handling the economic downturn last year, and the Chinese economy has tremendous potential and resilience. So I believe we have the ability and conditions to keep the economic operation within a proper range this year.
CCTV: In last year's press conference and this year's government work report, you laid special stress on streamlining administration and delegating powers. In our reporting activities we have heard much praise from the society about this reform initiative. Yet at the same time we have also heard complaints among the people that it is still difficult to get things done in some governmental departments. And some governmental departments may have released some less important powers, but still hold on to those more important ones. How to ensure that this reform initiative will be fully implemented? And to what extent can we say this reform task has been completed?
Li Keqiang: Last year, the Chinese government took streamlining administration and delegating power as the top priority on its reform agenda. With tremendous efforts, the central government has abolished or delegated to lower-level governments 416 items subject to State Council review and approval. This has sent out a very strong signal that we will loosen the straitjacket over enterprises and let the market play a strong role. As a result, fewer enterprises find it necessary to turn to the government and fewer local governments find it necessary to turn to the central government.
This reform initiative has tremendously boosted market dynamism as shown in the following statistics: The number of newly registered businesses last year increased by 27.6%, among which the number of newly registered private businesses increased by 30%, the highest in over ten years. This shows that streamlining administration and delegating power is a powerful tool in energizing the market and stimulating social creativity. It is also the fundamental solution for cutting rent-seeking behavior and uprooting corruption. It was decided at the Third Plenum of the 18th CPC Central Committee that the market will play a decisive role in allocating resources and the government should better play its role. Streamlining administration and delegating powers is an important starting point in this direction.
Delegation of power does not mean that the government will stay out of everything. What we need is both power delegation and tightened oversight. This way, the government can have extra energy to focus on pursuing creative and better macro-control. In particular, supervision over these delegated matters should be tightened when these matters are being handled and after they have been handled. Such behaviors as cheating and swindling of marketplace, making and selling of fake or substandard goods, violation of intellectual property rights, polluting activities and those activities that obstruct fair market competition will be put under rigorous oversight and severely punished. The principle of equity should be reflected in both power delegation and tightened oversight.
I am aware that in the course of power delegation there have been such problems as a perfunctory attitude, midway obstruction or power delegation getting stuck in the last mile. But how can an arrow shot be turned back? We are determined to see this reform through. We are prepared to take on tough challenges in pursuing this reform initiative.
As to to what extent will we feel satisfied, we will keep up this reform until there is a proper relationship between the government and the market. The market economy is one based on the rule of law. We need to ensure that market entities can do anything which is not prohibited by the law, and government departments cannot do anything unless it is mandated by the law, so as to mobilize the initiative of all sides and add new impetus to the growth of the Chinese economy.
CNBC: Many investors believe that China's growth rate this year could be slower and lower than the official rate of 7.5%. What is the slowest rate of growth you would find acceptable without stimulating the economy?
Li Keqiang: As I said before, I am aware of those pessimistic reports about the Chinese economy. Last year, without taking additional short-term stimulus measures, we succeeded in meeting the economic target. Why can't we do it this year?
There is no denying that we may encounter a more complex situation this year. We have set this year's GDP growth target at around 7.5%. What we have on our mind is to ensure employment, improve people's lives and increase urban and rural incomes. What we care more about is the livelihood of our people behind a GDP figure and employment behind GDP growth.
On 23 February, the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Governors Meeting issued a communiqué. It said that the G20 will work to raise its collective GDP by 2% within five years based on the current trajectory in order to add jobs. As far as I recall, this is the first time the G20 set such a target. That shows all major economies value the role of growth in generating jobs.
Without a job, there is no source of income and it will be difficult to increase social wealth. I once visited some zero-employment families. When none of the family members has a job, the entire family is listless and hopeless. Each year we need to add over 10 million urban jobs and leave room for about six to seven million rural migrant workers to come to get employed in cities. Therefore we need appropriate GDP growth.
We set the GDP growth target for this year at about 7.5%. This "about" means that there is a level of flexibility here. You asked me what is the lowest GDP growth that we can live with. This GDP growth needs to ensure fairly full employment and realize reasonable increase of people's income. We are not preoccupied with GDP growth. The GDP growth we want is one that brings real benefits to our people, helps raise the quality and efficiency of economic development and contributes to energy conservation and environmental protection.
Hong Kong Commercial Daily: As neighboring countries and regions grow fast, many people in Hong Kong feel that the Hong Kong's competitive edge is declining. How do you see the future prospects of Hong Kong's development?
Li Keqiang: There has been much volatility in the global economy in recent years. Under such grave and complex conditions, Hong Kong has stood firm and maintained prosperity. I believe this shows Hong Kong has kept its competitive edge. Hong Kong has made important contributions to the reform, opening up and modernization drive on the mainland. The comprehensive deepening of reform and economic upgrading of China will also open up broad space for Hong Kong's development.
The central government's policy towards Hong Kong and Macao is consistent and clear-cut. The central government will continue to support Hong Kong in maintaining and elevating its status as an international financial, trading and shipping center. The mainland is opening up its service sector, and Hong Kong has a leading edge in this field. "A pavilion close to the pond will get the moonlight first." With Hong Kong people's enterprising spirit, I have confidence that Hong Kong will keep its competitive edge and maintain prosperity amidst future global competition.
Associated Press: Mr. Premier, how do you comment on the current state of China-US relationship? In order to further raise the level of China-US ties, what do you think are the obstacles in the way and what change does China wish to see on the part of the United States?
Li Keqiang: The China-US relationship, in essence, is a relationship between the largest developing country and largest developed country in the world. Last year, President Xi Jinping and President Obama had a meeting in California and reached the important consensus of building a new model of major-country relationship between China and the United States. This relationship has the defining feature of non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation.
China and the United States are different in history, culture and stage of development. So it's only natural that these two countries have some differences and there are also some frictions in their cooperation. But these are pains amidst growing cooperation. As long as the two sides respect each other's core interests and major concerns, properly manage differences and engage in equal consultations, in particular, continue to expand their converging interests, they can further raise the level of this relationship.
The common interests between China and the United States far outweigh their differences. Trade between the two countries reached over 520 billion US dollars last year. Roughly calculated, about every one hour, China and the United States will have cut deals worth 100 million dollars. Moreover, the two sides are now in negotiation of a bilateral investment treaty. So there is much more that we can do to further unleash the potential of Sino-US cooperation, and we need to make the most of our complementarities. As the Chinese saying goes, wise people seek common interests while the unwise focus on their differences. Whatever the change may be, it should be conducive to both countries and to the sound and steady growth of China-US ties. So in a word, China and the United States need to focus more on common ground in pursuit of long-term benefits.
China Daily: In your government work report, you said that the government will pursue reform with utmost determination and focus on those reform steps that will have an overall impact. I would like to ask: what is the top priority on the government reform agenda this year?
Li Keqiang: It was decided at the third Plenum of the 18th CPC Central Committee that we will pursue a comprehensive deepening of reform in China. This means that reform will be carried out in all areas of China's economic and social development. Since last year, the State Council has altogether convened 40 executive meetings. Thirty of them are directly related to reform topics. And the rest of the topics are also studied and pursued with the spirit of reform. The ultimate goal of reform is to energize the market and stimulate creativity of the society. The government needs to perform its duties well to bring benefits to the people.
Your question reminds me of those days I spent in a rural village as a cadre more than 30 years ago. During that time, I worked very hard around the clock. I was anxious to plan out the share of work for each and every villager for the day. But still, with all the hard work, we still didn't have enough to eat. But later, land was contracted to local villagers, past restrictions were lifted, and peasants were able to decide for themselves what they wanted to grow on the contracted land and what they wanted to do. In just a few years' time, food and clothing was no longer a problem. To comprehensively deepen reform in China will take time. But our ancestors believe that one needs to be persistent in one's pursuit of the objective. With persistent efforts over time, I believe we will be able to achieve our goal.
In the course of comprehensively deepening reform, we certainly need to stay focused on key reform initiatives, and seek breakthroughs in key areas. This year, we will continue to streamline administration and delegate power to let the market fully play its role in an effective and well-regulated manner. We will take fiscal, tax and financial reforms as priorities. For example, new steps will be taken to ease the tax burden on micro and small businesses to boost market vitality. We will pursue structural reform to boost structural adjustment. In this area, we will deepen reform of state-owned enterprises, vigorously develop a mixed-ownership economy and ease market access, especially in the service sector, such as health care, old-age support and financial services to boost market competition. I have set out in detail the reform initiatives we are going to take this year in my government work report. I will not elaborate on it here. The crucial thing is to ensure that all reform measures will be fully implemented.
In the course of reform, the vested interests will be shaken up and some people's cheese will be moved, so to speak. For example, in the course of power delegation, some government departments will find fewer powers in their hands. In boosting market competition and easing market access, some existing companies will feel greater pressure. But in order to further release the dividends of reform and bring greater benefits to our people, we will carry through the reform without hesitation.
ETTV of Taiwan: We now see a great opportunity for further growth of cross-Straits relations. Shortly after the Chinese New Year, the competent departments of the two sides of the Taiwan Straits held a meeting. General Secretary Xi Jinping met with KMT Honorary Chairman Lien Chan, and made important remarks on cross-Straits relations. There has been very close exchange and cooperation between the two sides of the Taiwan Straits. People on both sides hope to see new breakthrough in cross-Straits ties. What is your expectation for cross-Straits ties this year?
Li Keqiang: People on both sides of the Taiwan Straits are compatriots and members of one family. This is always true and highly relevant. Just now, you mentioned a few important events in the recent development of cross-Straits ties. Let me also share one interesting anecdote. Last year, media of the two sides of the Taiwan Straits jointly selected the Chinese character "进", or "progress" in English, as "Chinese Character of the Year". I believe this shows the trend of peaceful development of cross-Straits relations and represents the common wish of people on both sides. I hope to see even greater and new progress in cross-Straits ties this year.
I believe people-to-people exchange and business cooperation are important components of cross-Straits relations. Last year, over 8 million visits were exchanged between people of the two sides, reaching a new high. We hope such good momentum will be kept. Moreover, the two sides are also in consultation of a follow-up to the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA). We hope to see early results out of the consultations so that greater benefits can be delivered to people and businesses of both sides. Please also convey my New Year greetings to our Taiwan compatriots.
Xinhua News Agency: The housing issue has always been a hot topic among the Chinese society. During this year's two sessions, many deputies and members put forward their suggestions and views on this topic. I would like to ask what will be the new ideas and measures of the government on this issue?
Li Keqiang: The real estate issue is a big issue, as it directly concerns home of the people. The goal of the government is to ensure adequate housing for the people. We need to take differential measures in response to diverse needs and in light of different situations in different cities.
I believe the government needs to focus on and do more to meet the people's basic housing needs. Now, up to 100 million people still live in those contiguous poor urban rundown areas, and these people lack their basic living conditions. For example, several hundred people have to share one toilet, and in places in Northern China, people have to wear cotton-padded coats and hats when they go to sleep on a winter night. This is deeply distressing for the government. We will rebuild more rundown areas this year, and the goal is to rebuild at least over 4.7 million rundown houses. At the same time, we will also build more government-subsidized housing, such as public rental housing to ease the housing difficulty of those young people who have just entered workforce and rural migrant workers, and ensure that these housing units will be distributed equitably. In this regard, even a small action is a lot more important than a thousand words.
There will be policy support for reasonable housing needs for self-living. The government will increase the supply of ordinary commercial housing. We will take a differential approach in regulating the housing market for different places. We will curb the housing needs for speculation and investment purposes, and establish a long-term mechanism to promote steady and sound growth of the housing market.
China National Radio: There has been growing public complaint about smog. In your government work report, you said the government will declare war against pollution. I wish to ask you what do you mean by that?
Li Keqiang: I said the government will declare war against smog and pollution as a whole, because this has become a serious issue on the top of the minds of our people. For many people, the first thing they do after getting up in the morning is to check the PM2.5 figure for the day. This has become a major issue that concerns our people's lives.
To declare war against smog and other pollution doesn't mean that we are declaring war against Nature. Rather, what we mean is that we are going to declare war against our own inefficient and unsustainable model of growth and way of life. Last year, the State Council issued a ten-point plan of action on the prevention and control of air pollution. We now conduct PM2.5 monitoring in 161 cities across the country, which is the most extensive scope among all developing countries. This is not just a reminder for our people to take precautionary measures, but also placing additional responsibility on the shoulder of the government. This year we will take further measures. For example, we have set the target of cutting energy intensity by 3.9% on top of the 3.7% reduction we achieved last year. This is equivalent to cutting coal burning by 220 million tons.
In fighting pollution, we need both tough measures and tough regulations. The government will severely punish those illegal emitting activities which harm both nature and human health. And those overseeing agencies which turn a blind eye to polluting activities and fail to perform their overseeing duties will be held accountable.
There are complex causes for smog and to tackle this problem will take a long time. But we cannot sit here and wait for wind or rain to drive smog away. We have to take action ourselves. I hope that the government, the businesses and each and every individual of the society will act together and make persistent efforts to win this tough battle against smog.
It's almost time for lunch, but the moderator hopes that I take two more questions. Would you like that? Fine, I'm happy to oblige.
RTL 4: Premier Li, you went to Europe last year to solve the solar panel dispute and also to promote Chinese nuclear power equipments and Chinese high-speed rail. I'd like to know your thoughts on what kind of obstacles you think should be removed for Chinese companies who want to do business in Europe. And in return, how will you address the European concerns about market access to China?
Li Keqiang: To promote Chinese products and safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese companies overseas is part of my job as Chinese Premier. During my visit to central and eastern Europe last year, I once said to leaders of these countries that of all the high-speed railways and nuclear power plants of the same quality, the Chinese companies can deliver in the fastest way and at the lowest cost. I have such confidence.
In upgrading the Chinese economy, we also need to upgrade Chinese exports. We cannot just export toys, apparel or shoes, although they are also necessary. We also need to export Chinese equipment to help Chinese equipment raise its competitiveness as they are tested on the international market. This is also a win-win situation, as among exports of Chinese equipment, many components and parts are sourced globally and some technologies are introduced from overseas. So this brings benefits to all.
Here through you, I wish to convey a message to the Chinese companies. That is: you need to do your best. We have given our word for the quality of Chinese equipment. I hope you will not prove us wrong, and the Chinese and foreign journalists can supervise. You mentioned the trade dispute over photovoltaic products last year. China and the EU are each other's largest trading partners. It is only natural that there will be some trade frictions between them given the large size of their trade. But as long as the two sides respect each other and engage in proper consultations, problems can be solved. And settlement of last year's photovoltaic products case is a success story. I don't want to see that one loses the status of "biggest trading partner" because of those individual cases which account for only a very small percentage of the two-way trade.
Talking about China-EU relations, I want to say that both China and the EU are strong advocates of a multi-polar world and investment facilitation. I believe it is an irresistible trend for Chinese and European companies to enter into each other's markets and make mutual investment. The two sides are now negotiating an investment treaty. I believe that as long as the two sides conduct the negotiation in a fair, reciprocal and facilitating way and create conditions for companies of both sides, there will be even greater mutual investment and deeper economic integration between China and Europe.
China Radio International: A recent opinion poll shows that social security is one of the hot topics among Chinese netizens. Last year, you said that China will build a social safety net to improve people's livelihood. How has this been progressing and is there any new plan in this regard?
Li Keqiang: Topics of high concern to the people, in particular those related to people's livelihood, represent priorities on the government work agenda. This year, we have three major tasks. Namely, we need to meet people's basic living needs. We need to provide a last resort for people to fall back on in case of special difficulty. And we need to promote social fairness.
First, we need to ensure people's basic living needs. We will build a comprehensive social safety net covering, among others, compulsory education, medical care, old-age support and housing. Our basic medical insurance schemes have achieved full coverage. Now basic old-age insurance schemes cover more than 800 million people. We need to make them truly portable and transferable, and further expand their coverage. We will raise the basic pension benefits at an appropriate time this year, and tackle the problem of fragmentation in due course. That is to say, we need to further integrate old-age and medical insurance schemes in urban and rural areas to put in place an integrated social safety net for the entire population.
Second, we need to provide a last resort for people to fall back on in time of special difficulty. As China is still a developing country, our basic welfare benefits are still quite low. But there are these people in the society who run into special difficulty because of serious illnesses or sudden disasters. In such circumstances, basic welfare benefits are no longer enough. They are in need of social assistance. The government must prevent frequent occurrence of such instances in which people become homeless or have to give up seeking medial treatment because they cannot afford it. Just imagine what if such situation happens to ourselves. All government employees must always put such special needs of the people on top of their mind. Therefore, not long ago, we introduced new methods on providing social aid to ensure that people who run into special difficulty will have somewhere to turn to.
Third, we need to promote social fairness. The above-mentioned two major tasks are designed to ensure that our people won't have any worries in seeking employment and starting one's own business. The government needs to take more effective steps to ensure equal opportunities in finding jobs and level the playing field for people to start their own businesses. The government needs to pay particular attention to ensuring fairness at the starting point, namely, fairness in education. This year we will raise the proportion of rural students from poor areas enrolled in key colleges and universities by over 10%. We will also further improve those poorly-built and low-performing schools in poor rural areas.
In a word, the government needs to create conditions to ensure that each and every individual will have an equal shot at a better life through hard work and that fairness and justice are truly realized even at the most primary level of the society. Thank you.
The moderator indicates to me that it's already lunch time. The Chinese people see food as an overriding priority. With so many people at the press conference, I hate to stand between you and your lunch. Thank you for coming to today's press conference, and thank you for your questions. Thank you all.
After the press conference, as he stood up to leave, Premier Li Keqiang answered questions from two more journalists. When asked whether the central government will introduce more favorable policies for Hong Kong, Premier Li Keqiang said, we will do anything that contributes to the prosperity of Hong Kong. We did so in the past and will continue to do in the future.
The press conference which lasted for 1 hour and 50 minites was held at the Golden Hall on the third floor of the Great Hall of the People and was attended by about 800 journalists from home and abroad.