China’s annual National People’s Congress (NPC) opens this week — the first under a new Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership facing intractable problems including endemic corruption, slowing economic growth and tensions with neighboring countries.
The rubber-stamp legislature, which begins on Wednesday at the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square in Beijing, serves as a show of unity in the nation and the ruling party.
The event is to start amid much fanfare, with colorfully clad delegates from China’s dozens of ethnic minorities and military officers in dress uniform arriving at the hall.
A centerpiece is to be the presentation of various “work reports,” the most important of which will be read by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (李克強), his first since taking the position at last year’s event.
The event will be closely watched for China’s annual economic growth target — which was given at 7.5 percent for last year — a figure analysts follow for insight into the leadership’s thinking about the economy and how they expect it to perform.
The announcement of China’s annual official defense budget will also be prominent.
Last year, Li’s predecessor, fomer Chinese premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶), said the figure would increase 10.7 percent to 720.2 billion yuan (US$116.8 billion).
Other topics likely to be mentioned in the report are an ongoing and high-profile crackdown on official corruption, China’s multiple environmental problems, including hazardous smog regularly enveloping major cities, economic reforms and territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas. Those problems were all mentioned in some fashion at last year’s meeting.
“And they will still be here next year,” said Steve Tsang, an expert in Chinese politics at Britain’s University of Nottingham.
“All of those major issues will take much longer than a year or two to fix,” he said, adding that China’s leadership was likely to use the congress meeting to play up progress made, most notably in the corruption crackdown.
“The curbing of corruption means the capacity of the party to function is stronger,” he said.
Last year’s congress set the seal on China’s once-a-decade leadership transition, which saw Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), who had become CCP secretary general in November 2012, take the helm as president as well.
Li replaced Wen as premier to become China’s No. 2 top official.
The congress comes after a major CCP meeting known as the Third Plenum in November last year, at which significant reforms including the abolition of education-through-labor camps and modifications to the decades-old one-child policy were announced.
Economic reforms were also flagged, including allowing the market to play a “decisive” role in the economy.
China’s leadership says it wants to transform the country’s economic growth model away from an over-reliance on often wasteful investment and instead make private demand the driver for the country’s future development, which they expect to result in slower, but more sustainable rates of expansion.