National People’s Congress convenes as China reckons with major economic setbacks

1 month ago 34
Updated March 5, 2024, 12:49 AM UTC

What we know

  • This week China is holding its biggest political gathering of the year in Beijing, the capital. The National People’s Congress, the country’s highest legislative body, will meet starting Tuesday, while a concurrent meeting of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a top advisory body, began on Monday. The weeklong meetings are being held at the cavernous, ornate Great Hall of the People on the west side of Tiananmen Square.
  • Though largely ceremonial in nature, the legislative sessions provide insight into the thinking of China’s ruling Communist Party and what the government’s plans are for the coming year. Of particular interest to international observers is what measures officials will take to address China’s economic slowdown.
  • On the eve of the National People’s Congress, China made a surprise announcement: Premier Li Qiang will not hold a news conference at the end of the meeting on March 11. It’s the first time in 30 years that China is scrapping the premier’s news conference, a rare opportunity for journalists from around the world to ask questions of a top Chinese leader.

Tight security around Tiananmen Square

The Great Hall of the People sits at the western edge of Tiananmen Square, where security is always tight. During big political sessions like the National People’s Congress it goes into overdrive, with thousands of police officers, soldiers and specialized security like canine units. Typically the square is searched and scoured before anyone is allowed to enter it — including a thorough sniffing of the flower beds.

In surprise move, Chinese premier won't face reporters

On the eve of the opening of the National People's Congress, Chinese officials made a surprise announcement: Premier Li Qiang, China's No. 2 official after President Xi Jinping, will not be holding a news conference at the end of this year's legislative session -- or at any of them during his term, which runs until 2028. It marks the end of a 30-year tradition.

For decades, the premier's televised news conference was one of the few chances for anyone — including journalists like me who are based here — to see the country's No. 2 official provide insight into Chinese Communist Party thinking and publicly discussing China's affairs.

Scrapping it is another reversal of the reforms and "opening up" that began here in the late 1970s and makes an opaque political system even more of a black box. It will be harder for foreign policymakers and businesses to get clear signals from China's leadership on plans.

It is also likely to frustrate investors that at a time when China's economy is losing steam, the country's top economic official won't be talking about it.

Inside the Great Hall of the People

I have covered Chinese political events and meetings inside the Great Hall of the People since Xi Jinping first came to power in 2012. I admit — to me, being inside the the building always feels a bit like being on a massive 1.85-million-square-foot movie set.

The Great Hall of the People opened in September 1959, and in many ways the decor hasn't really changed. There are towering marble pillars, thick red carpets and curtained hallways, and sprawling paintings of Chinese scenery. Security protocols have certainly evolved over the years, with facial recognition machines that "read" your ID card and airport-style scanners in the lobby.

The focal point is the cavernous "Auditorium of Ten Thousand People." It's where decades of Communist Party pomp and pageantry have played out under a huge red star on the ceiling adorned with lights. Up to 500 of the highest-ranking party members can sit on the raised dais. During big political events, everything inside the auditorium is tightly choreographed, including the way tea is served to officials.

There is a maze of other reception halls and conference rooms. For all your big dinner needs, the State Banquet Hall can host 5,000 people, as it did during Richard Nixon's historic 1972 visit to China.

What are the ‘Two Sessions’?

The most prominent political event of the year in China is known as liang hui, or the “Two Sessions.” The annual meetings of the ruling Chinese Communist Party are typically held in March (except in 2020 when they were delayed until May by the pandemic), at the Great Hall of the People near Tiananmen Square.

The main event is the National People’s Congress, where the Chinese premier delivers a speech (called the “work report”) that lays out the government’s plans and agenda for the year. There is also a “consultative session” the day before, though decisions have been largely predetermined. Chinese President Xi Jinping chairs both sessions but does not give an address at either of them.

About 3,000 delegates come to Beijing from across China — many of them attend the sessions wearing traditional dress or military uniforms. This year’s NPC is likely to wind down on March 11 with internal votes on reports and a closing ceremony.

NEW UPDATES
Updated March 5, 2024, 12:49 AM UTC

What we know

  • This week China is holding its biggest political gathering of the year in Beijing, the capital. The National People’s Congress, the country’s highest legislative body, will meet starting Tuesday, while a concurrent meeting of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a top advisory body, began on Monday. The weeklong meetings are being held at the cavernous, ornate Great Hall of the People on the west side of Tiananmen Square.
  • Though largely ceremonial in nature, the legislative sessions provide insight into the thinking of China’s ruling Communist Party and what the government’s plans are for the coming year. Of particular interest to international observers is what measures officials will take to address China’s economic slowdown.
  • On the eve of the National People’s Congress, China made a surprise announcement: Premier Li Qiang will not hold a news conference at the end of the meeting on March 11. It’s the first time in 30 years that China is scrapping the premier’s news conference, a rare opportunity for journalists from around the world to ask questions of a top Chinese leader.

Tight security around Tiananmen Square

The Great Hall of the People sits at the western edge of Tiananmen Square, where security is always tight. During big political sessions like the National People’s Congress it goes into overdrive, with thousands of police officers, soldiers and specialized security like canine units. Typically the square is searched and scoured before anyone is allowed to enter it — including a thorough sniffing of the flower beds.

In surprise move, Chinese premier won't face reporters

On the eve of the opening of the National People's Congress, Chinese officials made a surprise announcement: Premier Li Qiang, China's No. 2 official after President Xi Jinping, will not be holding a news conference at the end of this year's legislative session -- or at any of them during his term, which runs until 2028. It marks the end of a 30-year tradition.

For decades, the premier's televised news conference was one of the few chances for anyone — including journalists like me who are based here — to see the country's No. 2 official provide insight into Chinese Communist Party thinking and publicly discussing China's affairs.

Scrapping it is another reversal of the reforms and "opening up" that began here in the late 1970s and makes an opaque political system even more of a black box. It will be harder for foreign policymakers and businesses to get clear signals from China's leadership on plans.

It is also likely to frustrate investors that at a time when China's economy is losing steam, the country's top economic official won't be talking about it.

Inside the Great Hall of the People

I have covered Chinese political events and meetings inside the Great Hall of the People since Xi Jinping first came to power in 2012. I admit — to me, being inside the the building always feels a bit like being on a massive 1.85-million-square-foot movie set.

The Great Hall of the People opened in September 1959, and in many ways the decor hasn't really changed. There are towering marble pillars, thick red carpets and curtained hallways, and sprawling paintings of Chinese scenery. Security protocols have certainly evolved over the years, with facial recognition machines that "read" your ID card and airport-style scanners in the lobby.

The focal point is the cavernous "Auditorium of Ten Thousand People." It's where decades of Communist Party pomp and pageantry have played out under a huge red star on the ceiling adorned with lights. Up to 500 of the highest-ranking party members can sit on the raised dais. During big political events, everything inside the auditorium is tightly choreographed, including the way tea is served to officials.

There is a maze of other reception halls and conference rooms. For all your big dinner needs, the State Banquet Hall can host 5,000 people, as it did during Richard Nixon's historic 1972 visit to China.

What are the ‘Two Sessions’?

The most prominent political event of the year in China is known as liang hui, or the “Two Sessions.” The annual meetings of the ruling Chinese Communist Party are typically held in March (except in 2020 when they were delayed until May by the pandemic), at the Great Hall of the People near Tiananmen Square.

The main event is the National People’s Congress, where the Chinese premier delivers a speech (called the “work report”) that lays out the government’s plans and agenda for the year. There is also a “consultative session” the day before, though decisions have been largely predetermined. Chinese President Xi Jinping chairs both sessions but does not give an address at either of them.

About 3,000 delegates come to Beijing from across China — many of them attend the sessions wearing traditional dress or military uniforms. This year’s NPC is likely to wind down on March 11 with internal votes on reports and a closing ceremony.

NEW UPDATES

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