China’s congress to focus on economy, corruption and terrorism law

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Slower economic growth, the fight against corruption, a new counterterrorism law and reform of state-owned enterprises are likely to top the agenda at China’s annual parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), which meets next week.

Red flags will fly all over the capital as delegates arrive in the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square for the NPC, a largely symbolic event as most of the laws under discussion have been decided and the Bills are generally passed to resounding applause and nearly 100 per cent approval.

But the meeting can provide an indication of the relative popularity of an administration, and even a strong leader such as President Xi Jinping – who this week will mostly be referred to as Chairman Xi – has to marshal support among the regional party grandees gathered.

Speeches and a press conference by premier Li Keqiang, who is in charge of dealing with the economy, will give an idea of whether the government plans to kick-start the economy by providing some kind of fiscal stimulus. Other issues likely to figure at the NPC include healthcare reform, urbanisation and measures to combat pollution.

Corruption campaign The corruption campaign overshadows the whole event. According to calculations by the South China Morning Post newspaper, some 36 key figures are caught up in the graft crackdown and will not be attending the meeting.

The biggest of those who will be missing is Ling Jihua, the former right-hand man of ex-president Hu Jintao. Ling is under investigation for corruption and last week was stripped of his membership of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the advisory meeting that precedes the NPC – the comprised event is known as the “two meetings”.

Ling had been one of the advisory body’s deputy chairmen.

Another draft motion for the revised counterterrorism law narrows the definition of terrorism by deleting “thought” from list of crimes, although “speeches” could still count as an offence, according to the standing committee of the NPC.

Su Zelin, deputy director of the committee’s legislative affairs commission, said the concept of “thought” had been dropped “for the sake of accuracy and applicability”.

Terrorism defined The new draft defines terrorism as “any speech or activity that, by means of violence, sabotage or threat, generates social panic, undermines public security
and menaces government organs and international organisations”.

That the NPC is even considering this revision is significant, as Beijing is resolute in blaming terrorism, separatism and religious extremism for a series of violent attacks in the restive western province of Xinjiang.

Human rights activists say the hardline Chinese approach is responsible for provoking the attacks.

The government is trying to convince the people that slower economic growth is not necessarily a bad thing, after the economy expanded last year at 7.5 per cent, its lowest rate in 25 years.

“Policymakers seem increasingly comfortable with the idea that China is undergoing a structural transition to a “new normal” of slower growth,” wrote Capital Economics analysts Mark Williams and Julian Evans- Pritchard in a research note.

They are also concerned about a possible “fiscal cliff”, whereby the central government has to deal with a funding gap because of local governments borrowing too much.

Jian Chang at Barclays Capital believes this “new normal” idea reflects the government’s efforts to promote “lower, but quality” growth.

“We think the NPC will show more commitment to structural reforms with a focus on strengthening market-oriented resource allocation, economic rebalancing and growth sustainability,” said Chang.

SOURCE: The Irish Times, March 2nd, 2015,