BEIJING – Democracy Chinese-style will go on display when the country's rubberstamp legislature, the National People's Congress, and its advisory body open their annual sessions in Beijing over the next few days.
The largely ceremonial events come months ahead of an even more momentous gathering, the twice-a-decade national congress of the ruling Communist Party that will usher in changes to the top leadership as president and party chief Xi Jinping embarks on his second five-year term in office.
The legislative session is the first since President Donald Trump took office, kicking off a new era of uncertainty in relations ties between the world's two largest economies, and comes against the background of sharply slowing economic growth. Here are key features of the meetings, which generally run for about two weeks.
THE CEREMONIAL LEGISLATURE
The nearly 3,000-member National People's Congress meets in full session just once a year, with the daily work of drawing up legislation and passing laws handled by a much smaller standing committee. The session's highlight is a report to be delivered by the premier on Sunday. In it, he will announce China's target for economic growth and the closely watched defense budget that has ballooned into the world's second largest in recent years. Members, including a large contingent from the powerful military, also meet in smaller sessions.
THE POLITICAL ADVISERS
The slightly smaller body of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference attempts to present a united front among minority ethnic groups, business leaders, religious groups, artists and others. It officially exists to advise the NPC on legislation, but has little actual power or influence, although membership can open doors and confer prestige. The session opens on Friday with an address from the chairman that in past years has included a repudiation of Western democratic concepts, such as the separation of powers, and warnings against formal independence for the self-governing island of Taiwan.
BUSINESS AT HAND
High on the agenda is how the government will help the economy adapt to growth that has fallen to its lowest level since 1990. Controlling debt and creating jobs are priorities, as is tackling pollution that's a flashpoint for public anger. Observers will be looking out for expressions of support among Chinese officials for Xi, who last year assumed the mantle of "core" of the current leadership generation amid an anti-corruption campaign that felled former senior members of the government and military. While Trump won't likely be mentioned in any of the formal texts, the topic of U.S. relations is certain to come up at events on the sidelines.
This year's sessions are in part seen as a prelude to the party's 19th National Congress this fall, at which as many as five of the seven current members of the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee are expected to be replaced. The fall conclave will also mark the halfway point of the party leader's traditional 10-year term in office, although Xi has yet to indicate whether he intends to follow precedent by elevating a potential successor to the apex of power.
HOW IT HAPPENS
The sessions held at the cavernous Great Hall of the People showcase a version of democracy developed by an authoritarian government whose leaders are chosen in secret and allows no political opposition. Authorities have waged a sweeping crackdown against ethnic, legal and women's rights activists and political dissidents. Security is tightened around the time of the sessions, with some critics forced to leave their homes on escorted trips. On Monday, security forces staged a striking display of military might in the restive western region of Xinjiang.