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Key points on China’s annual parliamentary meeting

Beijing, China | AFP | 

Thousands of politicians from across China have converged on Beijing for the country’s annual legislative meetings known as the “lianghui” or “two sessions”.

The gathering provides a glimpse into the country’s politics and priorities, and this year’s event is being monitored particularly closely for hints about the ambitions of President Xi Jinping.

Observers are also looking for clues on how Beijing will deal with US President Donald Trump who has been critical of China’s trade policies and its expanding presence in the South China Sea.

Here’s what you need to know:

What are the “two sessions”?

The first one, which opened Friday, is the gathering of China’s political advisory committee, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).

The group’s members — including many of China’s most famous celebrities, like Yao Ming and Jackie Chan — get a lot of attention at home, but its discussions are relatively low stakes: representatives provide lawmakers with policy suggestions that, more often than not, have little impact on national policy.

The real focus of the “two sessions” is the meeting of the National People’s Congress (NPC), the country’s legislature, starting Sunday. Two thirds of the legislature’s members come from the ruling Communist Party.

Most of the bills that will be passed have already been decided by party leaders well in advance, leading to it being derisively described as a “rubber-stamp” parliament.

How important is it?

China goes to great lengths to make sure there are no embarrassing incidents during the parliamentary session, which is touted by the Communist Party as proof that it answers to the people despite a monopoly on power.

The meeting place in the Great Hall of the People is freshened up, traffic is shut down, factories are closed to guarantee blue skies, plainclothes policemen seem to lurk on every corner and political dissidents are rounded up and asked — or sometimes forced — to go on “vacation” somewhere far away from the capital.

It is also the one time each year when the country’s most powerful politicians are all in one place, making it a key venue for political horse-trading, glad-handing and backstabbing.

What are the top issues?

The event will be closely watched for signals about what measures the world’s second-largest economy will take to prop up its slowing growth, dragged down by overcapacity and structural inefficiencies.

Observers will also be looking for clues about how the heavily export-dependent economy plans to respond to Trump’s threats of a trade war.

For ordinary people, the biggest issue is corruption, according to an online poll by the Communist party mouthpiece the People’s Daily. It remains a persistent concern despite a years-long crackdown on graft at all levels of the political system.

Social security guarantees and reform of the healthcare system also featured prominently in the survey.

 

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