Live Updates: China's Legislative Session Kicks Off Amid Economic Uncertainty
This meeting could provide clues as to how China's leaders intend to boost growth and create new jobs. It takes nine days and is very choreographed.
Here's the latest information about the National People's Congress of China.
China's legislature, the National People's Congress, opens its annual session on Sunday as the country grapples with a frail economy, high youth unemployment, rising tensions with the United States and shock waves from Russia's war in Ukraine.
The highly choreographed nine-day meeting may give clues about how China's leaders plan to take on those challenges, especially reviving growth and creating jobs after the country's abrupt abandonment of 'zero Covid' controls. Nearly 3,000 congress delegates, mostly compliant officials and Communist Party members, will first hear the annual work report from China's premier, Li Keqiang, laying out the government's goals for 2023, most importantly its economic growth target.
But official attention will mostly fall on Xi Jinping, the Communist Party's top leader, who is poised to be named president again and to further consolidate his power at the congress. At the end of the session, the delegates will approve a new lineup of government ministers and other senior officials, including a premier to succeed Mr. Li.
Here are some other things to know:
Most likely, the plan to reorganize some parts of China's government will be approved by its delegates, who are known for their support for proposals.
The propaganda apparatus of the party has promoted a new triumphant narrative about 'zero Covid', which is aimed to increase Mr. Xi’s authority and discourage dissent.
One priority is to fix the financial problems of local governments, which has sparked protests about cuts to some Chinese cities' health insurance benefits.
The new premier is all but sure to be Li Qiang, a former party secretary of Shanghai who worked under Mr. Xi when they were both provincial officials.
China's top leaders will meet with the top legislators starting Sunday to discuss plans to restore public trust and boost economic growth following a year of uncertainty and disruption caused by the Covid restrictions.
The annual session of the largely ceremonial National People's Congress in Beijing is aimed at conveying the ruling Communist Party's confidence and inspiring national unity. For the country's top leader, Xi Jinping, this year's event will also be key to reinforcing his authority after his signature 'zero Covid' policy, now abandoned, drew widespread protests in November and worsened an economic slowdown.
The leadership will lay out its agenda for addressing challenges such as mounting local government debt, unemployment, a housing slump, weak exports and a shrinking population. Delegates are expected to rubber-stamp decisions made in advance, behind closed doors, by leaders of the party who hold ultimate authority.
After securing a historic third term as party leader, Mr. Xi will be re-elected to a five-year term as president at the conclusion of the nine-day gathering. He will also appoint his loyalists, and other allies, to key government posts.
Here's what to expect from the legislative gathering.
The party will probably defend its handling of Covid.
This gathering will mark the first time since China lifted 'zero Covid', a controversial policy of locking down and quarantining people.
In the lead-up to the congress, China's propaganda apparatus has pushed a triumphant narrative declaring that under Mr. Xi's leadership, the party's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic was a 'miracle in human history' and 'completely correct.' It has emphasized the importance of unity behind the party's leaders.
"As long as people and party stand together, think and work together, no storm will shake our steel will, nor can any difficulty stop our determined steps," the People's Daily, the party's mouthpiece on Friday, stated.
The city will be under heavy security and traffic jams as approximately 3,000 delegates from across the country, hand-picked by the party, descend upon the capital to meet at the Great Hall of the People.
Recent years have seen delegates wear masks and take Covid tests. It is not clear how many restrictions such as these will be kept. Foreign journalists who were invited to cover the congress were informed that, despite the lifting of most Covid restrictions nationwide, they would need to be quarantined overnight in order to attend certain news conferences.
China will once more show it cares about growth
When the meeting opens, the departing premier, Li Keqiang, will deliver a government work report that is expected to include a target of roughly 5 percent in economic growth for the year.
China's economy had its weakest performance in decades last year, dragged down by lockdowns and then widespread Covid outbreaks in December. Businesses have been rattled in recent years by crackdowns on Big Tech and other sectors, and developers ran out of money as regulators reined in excessive debt.
Local officials have faced protestors in several cities over recent weeks after certain municipalities cut their health insurance to address a debt crisis. The youth unemployment rate is high and the birthrate at an all-time low. The country reported its first population drop in six decades in January.
To juice economic growth, a major pillar of the party's legitimacy, the party is expected to pledge to boost middle-class spending, restore confidence to investors and create new jobs.
Chinese officials adopted business-friendly language to address concerns about the economy's fragility. This is a departure from the emphasis that the country has placed on developing an economy controlled by the state. China analysts will closely monitor the work report to see if it balances Mr. Xi’s pro-growth rhetoric with his statist approach.
China is preparing for a world that is more skeptical about Beijing's ambitions
The report of the premier will likely reflect Mr. Xi’s long-term vision for China's leadership in a multipolar world that replaces the United States-led international system. According to Mr. Xi, China's success was proof that modernization does not equal Westernization.
This means Mr. Xi will reduce the country's dependence on the West for key technology, build a military of world-class quality, increase the party's control in the security apparatus, steer the economy, and limit financial risks.
China is under scrutiny after the United States alleges that it may be providing ammunition and arms to Russia for its war in Ukraine. The United States has placed strict limits on the export of semiconductors to China. Many countries are already in recession and this will reduce demand for Chinese exports.
As demonstrated by the Chinese spy balloon dispute last month, relations with America are volatile. This is especially true as China adopts a more aggressive stance towards Taiwan, Taiwan's self-governing island, which Beijing claims to be its territory. Watchers will be watching the congress closely for any changes in Taiwan policy or legislation.
Xi's comrades are expected to be promoted to top government jobs during the government reshuffle
The National People's Congress also makes personnel decisions for the premier and vice premiers, state councilors, and many other ministry-level departments. Some of these decisions were made at an earlier party congress. Others were made in closed-door sessions before the event.
Li Qiang is Mr. Xi's closest ally and currently No. Premier will be taken over by Li Qiang, who is currently No. 2 in the Politburo Standing Committee. The premier will host a news conference after the congress. In this event, reporters can ask questions and are normally vetted before they go.
Analysts are also looking out for other appointments to the leadership of China's economy and financial sectors. They include Ding Xuexiang, who is expected to be executive vice premier. He Lifeng, another close ally to Mr. Xi and head of China's powerful economic policy planning body, is expected to become vice premier; and Zhu Hexin, a veteran banker, might be tapped to run China's central bank.
Tony Saich, a Harvard University China specialist, stated that "they are all party people, first of all, and, of course," close associates of Xi Jinping. It's a departure for all Western-educated, global integrated officials who are basically all retired and timed out.
Under Mr. Xi's leadership, female leaders have been less common. The top 24 party members are now all men for the first time in decades. Shen Yiqin is a former chief of the party in Guizhou's southwestern province. He may be elected a state councilor.
The party also indicated a major institution shake-up to help Mr. Xi achieve his agenda. This will allow the party to be more deeply embedded in state ministries and Chinese society.
Although few details have been revealed, Mr. Xi demanded that the party and state institutions be reformed at a meeting of national leaders Tuesday. China watchers are discussing changes that might see China's vast security apparatus and financial watchdogs come under tighter supervision by Mr. Xi.
Jude Blanchette is a China specialist at The Center for Strategic and International Studies. He said frustrations with the Chinese bureaucracy's sprawl are driving these heavy-handed interventions.