The Spring Festival is over and the most important event in China’s political calendar is coming into view. The "Two Sessions" – the plenary session of the National People's Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference – will begin on March 4. At a time when many nations are still in Covid-19 lockdown, more than 5,000 delegates will travel to Beijing to take part.
This year's NPC will be a special for several reasons. A year after the start of the pandemic – which even China has not yet fully overcome – the country’s leadership under State and Party leader Xi Jinping will try to use it to demonstrate self-confidence and strength at the start of a year that marks the centenary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Premier Li Keqiang will present a work report that will give insights into the priorities for Chinese politics this year. But the focus of attention will be on the 14th Five-Year Plan, which will be officially passed by the delegates.
Celebrating the targets achieved – and setting ambitious new ones
In the draft Five-Year Plan, the Chinese leadership celebrated its recent successes. Despite the pan-demic, it reached its goal of achieving a “moderately prosperous” China by 2021. Now "socialist mod-ernization" is scheduled to be completed over the next 15 years – and the leadership is expected to present the NPC its "visions for 2035." For example, China’s leaders expect the country's economic output to double in this time – and they are likely to give the People's Congress more details about which investments and economic policy decisions they expect will bring China closer to this goal.
Worrying about domestic demand – and striving for high-quality growth
China’s current economic growth is solid in international comparison. But worried about internal de-mand, China leaders are expected to introduce several measures to boost domestic consumption.
But the NPC is not expected to adopt concrete growth targets. The Chinese leadership is all too aware of how unpredictable the Covid-19 crisis has made domestic and global developments. In-creased volatility makes setting growth targets more risky. But the complexity of restructuring of the economy is probably the main reason why China’s leaders have backed off setting clear growth tar-gets. There has been an ongoing debate on whether China will (finally) drop GDP growth targets in an effort to focus more on quality growth. The 2021-2025 Five-Year Plan names renewing the county’s industrial base, catching up with industrialized economies and technological renewal as central pro-jects.
Focusing on high tech and climate – and clamping down on Hong Kong
To achieve these goals, China’s leadership is focusing on technological and scientific innovation, and implementing its climate targets. By 2060, for example, carbon dioxide emissions are meant to fall to zero – a huge challenge for a country that today still meets most of its energy demand by burning coal and other fossil fuels. Also, having endured a trade war with the US, China now wants to become less dependent on international suppliers of technology and expertise – not least in the semiconductor sector so essential for digitalization. Developing the high-tech sector, "qualitative growth" and self-sufficiency are the order of the day – as should become very clear at the People's Congress.
Delegates are also expected to again take up the issue of Hong Kong – deliberations that will be watched very closely by Western governments. Beijing is reportedly planning to tighten election rules in the special administrative region. Last year’s NPC ushered in the National Security Law as a prel-ude to the political clampdown in the special administrative region.
Media coverage and sources:
The facts: This year’s two back-to-back sessions of the NPC and the CPPCC will again have Hong Kong on their agenda, according to state media. Last year’s NPC ushered in the National Security Law as a prelude to a clampdown in the then protest-ridden special administrative region. In a widely reported speech, Xia Baolong, director of Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, recently reminded his listeners that Hong Kong had to be governed by “patriots.” In other words, every member of Hong Kong’s legislature, judiciary and administration must love the Chinese motherland and support its Communist Party.
Indeed, measures to enforce this principle were tightened this month: New draft legislation introduced in Hong Kong will require all members of the city’s legislature and district councilors to swear an oath of loyalty. Political representatives who break their pledge will be banned from office for five years. EU officials met on Monday to contemplate measures in response to the diminished political freedoms and rule of law in the city, such as terminating extradition treaties.