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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

China’s annual meeting of parliament — All you need to know

Top of the agenda this year is amending the country's constitution to remove two-term limits for the presidency, which will effectively allow President Xi Jinping to stay in power indefinitely.

By: Reuters | Updated: March 2, 2018 1:13:15 pm
China annual meeting of parliament Shared bicycles are parked near a propaganda billboard showing Chinese President Xi Jinping along a street in Beijing, Friday, March 2, 2018. The annual meetings of China’s top legislative bodies are set to begin on Saturday, during which the two-term limit on China’s presidency is expected to be removed. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Around 3,000 delegates to the annual meeting of China’s largely rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress, will meet in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People on March 5 for a session that will last around two weeks. Here is an overview of China’s top legislature and this year’s meeting:

Top of the agenda this year is amending the country’s constitution to remove two-term limits for the presidency, which will effectively allow President Xi Jinping to stay in power indefinitely.

Other amendments include inserting Xi’s political theory of the “New Era”, and tweaking some wording to provide a constitutional base for a new anti-corruption superbody, the National Supervision Commission.

The only piece of legislation being passed this year is the Supervision Law, under which the new Supervision Commission will operate.

There will also be a major government reshuffle, with vice premiers, certain new ministers and other top officials like the central bank chief decided, and a shake-up of government departments. No details of that have been given ahead of time.

One closely watched position will be that of the vice presidency.

Wang Qishan, a close Xi ally and former top graft-buster who stepped down last year from the Standing Committee, the Communist Party’s ruling inner core, is widely expected to assume the post, with a focus on handling relations with the United States.

Liu He, a top policy adviser and trusted confidant of President Xi, is tipped to become a vice premier in charge of economic and financial issues. He has also emerged as the front runner to be the next central bank governor.

On the opening day, Premier Li Keqiang will announce key annual economic targets in his state-of-the-nation style address. China’s 2018 growth target is expected to be kept around 6.5 percent.

The economy expanded 6.9 percent last year, the first acceleration in annual growth since 2010.

The defence budget for the year also gets unveiled on the opening day, though last year it was initially not released, prompting concern about transparency.

The meeting will end with the premier’s annual news conference.

FUNCTIONS

The NPC meets annually in March to pass major bills, approve the budget and endorse personnel nominations.

The NPC is generally considered a rubber stamp for the ruling Communist Party’s policies and decisions, though debate on certain issues, such as pollution, can be lively.

MEMBERSHIP

The chairman is Zhang Dejiang, a former vice-premier and the third-most senior person in the party after President Xi and Premier Li.

The nearly 3,000 delegates attending the session represent China’s 31 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions, as well as Hong Kong, Macau and the military. There are also delegates for self-ruled Taiwan, mostly made up of defectors and their descendants. They serve five-year terms.

VOTES

Votes almost always follow the Communist Party’s wishes and pass by an overwhelming majority, but delegates have in the past strayed from the party line to show frustration over issues such as corruption and crime.

All citizens over the age of 18 are technically allowed to vote for delegates and be elected to the NPC, but most delegates are hand-picked by local-level officials.

MEETINGS

Parliament meets in the Great Hall of the People to the west of Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing. Built in less than a year in 1959 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic, the main auditorium can seat 10,000 people.

Parliament’s largely ceremonial advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, meets in parallel with the NPC. It is made up of business magnates, artists, monks, non-communists and other representatives of broader society, but it has no legislative power.

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