BEIJING — About 3,000 national legislators have gathered in Beijing for the third session of the 12th National People’s Congress (NPC), which starts on March 5, to discuss and unify thinking on issues concerning development and the economy.
An even larger number of journalists, one third of whom from abroad, will flock to the Great Hall of the People to cover one of China’s most important political events.
For China, the session will be critical to reaching consensus on how to address challenges brought about by the slowdown in growth, as well as quashing resistance from vested interest groups.
POINTS OF REFERENCE
At an NPC news conference on March 4, more than a dozen questions — including those on military budgets, reform, legislation, anti-corruption, taxation and environmental protection — were directed at NPC third session spokeswoman Fu Ying.
President Xi Jinping’s political initiative, the Four Comprehensives, is expected to dominate the session’s meetings, which will run until March 15.
The four pillars of the coinage are the building of a moderately prosperous society, the deepening of reform, the advancing of rule of law and the strict discipline within the Communist Party of China (CPC).
The NPC session will refer to the Four Comprehensives as a yardstick to drive discussions, Fu said.
WHAT LIES AHEAD
Experts believe the annual session will address how the legislature, the executive branch, judicial organs and the military can work effectively to promote development.
Premier Li Keqiang will deliver his annual government work report on Thursday, which will set the economic growth target for 2015 as well as other indexes including the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and employment.
For the first time since the legal reform plan was rolled out October, which mandated governance based on the rule of law, the top judge and chief justice will outline reform measures for the year ahead.
The work report of the NPC Standing Committee is expected to elaborate on enhancement of Chinese democracy and how it is differentiated from Western models.
A bill to revise the Legislation Law is also expected to be put to the vote during the session. If passed, the law will devolve certain lawmaking powers to more cities. It is also expected that the implementation of law-based taxation will also be expedited.
“We are facing unprecedented challenges, with profound changes to boot,” said Wang Jinghai, a lawmaker from Heilongjiang province. “We are confident that we can deal with them under the guidelines set by the central authorities.”
Decision-making is becoming more difficult as public interests and social demands become more diversified, he said.
HOW ABOUT 7 PERCENT
As repeatedly underscored by the central leadership, China has entered a stage of the “new normal,” characterized by middle-to-high-speed growth, rather than the breakneck expansion in previous years.
Foreign and domestic experts predict that China may further lower its economic growth target for 2015 to around 7 percent from last year’s 7.4 percent.
Although this would be China’s slowest growth in decades, it can only be achieved if new engines of growth are identified.
“We need to pay special attention to problems likely to emerge during the process of economic upgrading,” said Gu Shengzu, an NPC deputy and vice-chairman of the Revolutionary Committee of the Chinese Kuomintang.
Manufacturing overcapacity, property bubbles, a financial system that falls short of small enterprises’ demands and pollution are all pressing problems that must be tackled, he said.
Despite concerns of a potential collapse, sentiment seems to be weighed more in favor of a medium to high level of growth, as long as employment is guaranteed, household income raised and the quality and efficiency of growth improved.
With a larger base figure, growth of 7 percent will produce an annual increase of more than $800 billion at the current price, more than that five years ago when 10 percent growth was posted.
However, China might not afford for its economy to slip out of the “reasonable growth range.”
REFORM AND LAW
Lawmakers are expected to urge the government to step up reform measures and modify fiscal and taxation policies. Agricultural modernization and urbanization are also expected to be hot topics during the 10-day session.
The central government has prioritized the restructuring of its own functions amid efforts to improve efficiency and to inject vitality into the economy.
The establishment of negative list management will encourage decentralization while further measures are expected to allow the market to play a decisive role in enhancing development.
NPC deputy Liu Li called for revisions to the Labor Contract Law to better protect rights of migrant workers while another lawmaker Chen Jingying urged governments at various levels to be more transparent.
“It is the responsibility of lawmakers to supervise or even criticize the government in addressing issues that have challenged the country,” Chen said.
To provide a sound environment for development, corruption eradication efforts will be further enhanced, with more focus on developing an institutional mechanism to crack down on graft, Fu said at the press conference on March 4.
Revisions to the Criminal Law may also be considered to enhance efforts to fight embezzlement and bribery, she said, adding that the bribing of officials’ relatives will also be criminalized.