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Explained: What to expect from China’s annual meeting of parliament

Among the most-watched parts of the agenda are the presentation of an annual work report for 2021, and the release of China's 14th five-year plan.

By: Reuters | Beijing |
February 26, 2021 11:48:55 am
Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks during a ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, File)

Thousands of delegates from across the country will gather in Beijing next week for the annual meeting of parliament, where China will announce goals for 2021 as well as its next five-year plan for economic development.

Here’s what to expect:

What are the ‘two sessions’?

The annual meetings of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s rubber-stamp parliament, and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), are known as the “two sessions.”

The NPC is expected to sit for about a week, beginning on March 5. The CPPCC, a largely ceremonial advisory body, runs in parallel.

The events typically draw a combined 5,000 delegates and will be held under strict COVID-19 controls. Last year’s meetings were delayed to May because of the coronavirus.

Among the most-watched parts of the agenda are the presentation of an annual work report for 2021, and the release of China’s 14th five-year plan, expected to include hundreds of pages spelling out priorities for the world’s second-largest economy up to 2025.

Votes for new laws at the NPC follow the ruling Communist Party’s wishes and generally pass by overwhelming majority, but delegates have sometimes departed from the party line to vent frustrations over issues such as corruption and crime.

All citizens older than 18 are technically allowed to be elected to the NPC via votes through lower-level bodies, but most delegates are hand-picked by local officials.

Typically, Premier Li Keqiang and the government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, hold news conferences.

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What will be announced in the work report?

China usually announces its yearly GDP growth target, although last year it did not because of economic uncertainties caused by COVID-19.

Policy sources have told Reuters there will again be no target this year, although analysts expect growth may top 8% amid a strong recovery from last year’s coronavirus-induced slump. Targets for inflation, job creation, the budget deficit and local government bond issuance for 2021 are expected.

China also typically includes a projection for growth in defence spending. Last year it was 6.6%, the lowest in three decades, although an improving domestic economy and rising tensions, including over Taiwan, are expected by many analysts to spur accelerated growth this year.

The NPC is expected to consider changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system to ensure only pro-Beijing “patriots” are governing. Last year, a month after hinting at national security legislation at the NPC, Beijing unveiled a tough national security law in response to months of anti-government protests in the city.

What about the 14th five-year plan?

A draft of China’s blueprint for economic and social development from 2021 to 2025 will also be made public, which analysts expect to be a vision of a greener, more innovative economy that is less dependent on the wider world.

The document will set broad goals for growth, environmental protection, technological development, and living standards, to be fleshed out through more specific plans released later.

An average annual growth target of about 5% for the entire period is likely to be set, Reuters previously reported, down from “over 6.5%” for the previous five years.

Encouraging innovation will probably be a key part of the plan, in part to reduce vulnerabilities in China’s tech supply chains amid increasing tensions with the United States.

The government could also unveil reforms to spur domestic consumption and self-reliance under President Xi Jinping’s “dual circulation” strategy.

Another priority will be reducing emissions to move toward Xi’s goal of making China carbon neutral by 2060. Demographic challenges brought about by China’s rapidly aging population may also be addressed.

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