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China back to business as coronavirus-delayed congress meets



China's parliament starts its annual meeting in Beijing on Friday as President Xi Jinping's government seeks to point out the Chinese people - and therefore the world - that it's controlled the coronavirus pandemic that delayed the key political event by quite two months and may do what's needed to revive the economy.

Some 3,000 delegates of the National People's Congress will meet for subsequent seven days within the cavernous auditorium of hall of the People, built over 10 months on the western side of Tiananmen Square back within the time of Mao .


The NPC and therefore the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), which met on Thursday, are collectively referred to as the "Two Sessions" and were alleged to happen in March until the coronavirus pandemic that had begun with a couple of cases of mysterious pneumonia within the city center of Wuhan, opened up of control in January, forcing the town and its surrounding province to be sealed .

"The significance of the NPC is that it's actually happening," said Steve Tsang, who is that the director at the China Institute at SOAS in London. "The NPC is generally more of a logo than anything and this point it's additional symbolism for both the party and Xi Jinping. It are often wont to show that it's only due to the success of the leadership of the party and Xi Jinping in handling the coronavirus that China can hold this congress."

With China now recording only a couple of cases every day , some measures that were introduced to contain the virus are relaxed. But an epidemic that has shattered the economy, and tested the country's health system and government as rarely before is probably going to dominate the discussions.

As the State Council said on Wednesday after meeting to organize for the 2 Sessions, China is facing an "extremely arduous and complex" situation in 2020.

The performance of the economy within the first three months of the year - when coronavirus was at its height - gives a sign of the size of the challenge.

Gross domestic product (GDP) shrank by 6.8 percent - the primary contraction since a minimum of 1992 when China began releasing data. HSBC has said the GDP forecast might be as low as 2 percent for the complete year and will even be dropped altogether.

Premier Li Keqiang will lay out the plans for the year within the traditional "state of the nation" address on the opening day; a speech that sometimes sets key targets, including economic process and unemployment.

Key issues on the agenda are going to be economic process and jobs, poverty alleviation, public health and new legislation, with some meetings happening via video conference to make sure officials maintain appropriate social distancing.

"The virus makes things very complicated," said Minglu Chen, a senior lecturer within the Department of state and diplomacy at the University of Sydney, noting that the authorities are handling a precipitous decline within the economy once they are usually announcing runaway growth.

"We haven't seen much information on who has lost their jobs. Who is struggling," she said.

Officially, unemployment is at 6 percent, but the info doesn't include the many migrant workers who, without work, have returned home to their villages. As in many coronavirus-hit countries, others are forced to simply accept pay cuts while small businesses have struggled to stay afloat.

Economists expect officials to announce new stimulus measures because the government focuses on limiting the fallout from the economic collapse and preserving social stability; one among the Communist Party's key policy objectives.

The coronavirus has already shown how things can spin of control even during a society that's as tightly controlled as China's.

As the outbreak surged in February, people in Wuhan queued outside hospitals struggling to urge treatment for relations while medical workers found themselves facing a potentially deadly disease without the private protective equipment they needed.

China's usually constricted social media was alive with a fury which erupted into full public view with the death of Dr Li Wenliang, the attention doctor who was one among the earliest to warn about the virus but found himself silenced.

Since then, the govt has clamped down on critics and seized control of the narrative, shifting the blame to officials in Wuhan - sacking some from their jobs - and using the escalating outbreaks within the West as a contrast to China's relative success.

Buoyed by a nationalist wave, President Xi Jinping, the country's most powerful leader since Mao, appears to be retaining his grip on power.

"The current pandemic has weakened his position somewhat, but as far as I can see, he still remains dominant, with no potential rivals in view to challenge him," said James Char, an associate research fellow within the China programme of the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University. "This is particularly the case since he continues to possess a decent rein over the People's Liberation Army."

Char notes that on the Central commission (CMC) - the PLA's supreme decision-making body which was found out during the 19th Party Congress in 2017 - all six members are people with close ties to Xi.

As he takes his seat within the auditorium, Xi will have little to fear from the delegates - supposedly elected by citizens above the age of 18, but actually , chosen by local officials. While the parliament has - occasionally - rejected government plans, the congress is seen as largely a rubber stamp.


Among other legislation they're going to consider are going to be China's first civil code - a part of Xi's decide to reform the system and formalise property and private rights.

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the civil code also will include updated public health legislation with the likelihood that public health-related crimes are going to be tougher in future, consistent with NPC Observer, which tracks initiatives at the NPC.

More significantly, China has also signalled the NPC will pass new national security legislation for Hong Kong after mass anti-government protests that began a year ago and have began to reemerge in recent weeks. Zhang Yesui, a spokesman for the congress, said the move was necessary "in light of latest circumstances and need" with more details of the legislation to be announced on Friday.

While the NPC could be a show of the Chinese government's strength, when Premier Li presides over the normal closing day press conference - with fewer media attending than usual due to social distancing - the coronavirus will still cast an extended shadow.

"People within the system aren't getting to forget February," said SOAS's Tsang. "For all the propaganda the people that lived through February aren't getting to forget what happened. nobody feels strong enough to challenge Xi within the short term, but if things go badly wrong again then who knows."







China back to business as coronavirus-delayed congress meets

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