China’s ruling Communist Party has postponed the biggest event on its political calendar, the National People’s Congress, as it concentrates on fighting the coronavirus.
But the decision could further complicate President Xi Jinping’s ability to fulfill his ambitious agenda for the year, which includes doubling economic output compared with 2010 levels. The showcase legislature rubber-stamps the leader’s proposals for the year ahead.
The annual legislative session, held together with a meeting of the party’s top political-advisory body, was due to begin on March 5. But the NPC’s Standing Committee decided at a meeting in Beijing on Monday that it would be delayed.
The committee did not set a date for the meetings, known collectively as the “Two Sessions.” “The specific time of the meeting will be further decided by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress,” state broadcaster CCTV reported.
Big decisions are often made at the meetings. In 2018, the legislature approved a plan to abolish presidential term limits, making it possible for Xi to stay in power indefinitely. The move cemented a dramatic shift in Chinese politics, taking China back to the era of one-man rule not seen since Mao Zedong.
Monday’s decision was expected, since officials announced last week that they would discuss postponing the meeting, which attracts thousands of delegates from around the country to Beijing’s majestic Great Hall of the People.
Zang Tiewei, a spokesman for Legislative Affairs Commission, had previously said that coronavirus epidemic prevention and control had become the party’s most important work.
“It is now a crucial moment to curb the spread and win the battle, so no effort should be spared,” Zang told the official Xinhua News Agency after last week’s announcement. “Many of the nearly 3,000 NPC deputies, including leading officials at the municipal, provincial levels and other fields, are fighting at the front lines of the epidemic battle.”
Furthermore, analysts said, it would be bad optics for the party to go ahead with a huge meeting at a time when public gatherings are banned, and even worse to show thousands of cadres in masks.
China’s top economic planner said earlier Monday that the government would still achieve its 2020 economic and social development goals.
“The novel coronavirus outbreak has some impact on China’s economic operation, but there are still many favorable conditions for completing the various tasks set by the Central Economic Work Conference,” said Cong Liang, secretary general of the National Development and Reform Commission.
The epidemic will not change the fundamentals of China’s long-term economic growth, Cong said, according to state media reports.
Wang Yong, a professor of International Studies at Peking University, said the decision was necessary at this “special time.”
“We are still in the process of studying the virus, the virus spreads relatively quickly, and it’s quite dangerous,” he said. “I think the country should focus on epidemic prevention and control and solving problems. This is the top priority at the moment.”
Source: Washington Post