BEIJING – Thousands of delegates from around China are gathering in Beijing for next week's annual session of the country's rubber-stamp legislature and its advisory body. The event is more a chance for the authoritarian ruling Communist Party leadership to directly communicate its message than for actual debate or passage of laws.
The session known as the "two meetings" provides an opportunity for party leaders to sum up the past year's achievements and lay out their priorities for the coming 12 months. It also offers a rare glimpse of President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang and other top officials going about the business of governing Chinese style, as the world's most populous nation faces challenges from a slowing economy to a radical decline in its birthrate.
Here are some facts and figures about the event.
MANY SPEECHES AND REPORTS
As always, the 2019 session will include reports, speeches and media events, starting with Premier Li Keqiang's lengthy Report on the Work of the Government, a sort of State of the Nation address, that kicks off the session on Tuesday.
Li will reveal the economic growth target for the year and the annual defense budget, now the world's second largest after the United States.
Reports will also be issued on the work of the Supreme People's Court and the state prosecutor, the budget and the latest plan for economic and social development. The foreign and commerce ministers also meet with journalists, and the entire 10 to 11-day session ends with Li presiding over the premier's traditional annual news conference broadcast live nationwide.
THOUSANDS OF DELEGATES
This year, 2,975 delegates have been selected to sit in the National People's Congress, the symbolic legislature, representing cities, provinces and regions from across China, along with the People's Liberation Army.
They are joined by 2,158 members of the legislative advisory body, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, which meets concurrently. Delegates, led mostly by retired government officials, can discuss proposals for legal and regulatory changes, but have no powers of enforcement. Rather than geographic regions, they generally represent social and professional sectors, including farmers, workers, government officials and professionals in the field of science, technology, business, finance, education, agriculture and entertainment.
FAMOUS FACES, SOME VERY WEALTHY
While the NPC is made up mainly of politicians and soldiers, CPPCC delegates cut a broad swath through society. Its ranks include economist Lin Yifu, former senior vice president of the World Bank, movie directors Feng Xiaogang and Jia Zhangke, actor Jackie Chan and some of China's wealthiest businessmen including Ma Huateng of internet giant Tencent Holdings and Lei Jun of mobile phone maker Xiaomi.
Ma is believed to be the richest delegate, with a personal fortune of $45.3 billion, followed by real estate developer Xu Jiayin, with $30.3 billion, chairman of automaker Geely, Li Shufu, at $14.8 billion Xiaomi's Lei with $11.4 billion, according to Forbes' 2018 data. Their wealth leaves U.S. politicians in the shade and has raised questions about China's growing gap between rich and poor and the power of money within the county's largely opaque political system, despite President Xi Jinping's ongoing campaign to root out official corruption.
AGENDA LIGHT ON LEGISLATIVE GOALS
The session will deliberate the Foreign Investment Law whose second draft was passed by the Standing Committee in January. It seeks to promote foreign investment while prohibiting the forced transfer of sensitive technology by administrative measures, a practice at the heart of U.S. complaints over unfair trading practices that have sparked punishing bilateral tariffs.
The measure, which replaces previous laws, essentially bars local governments from interfering with national foreign investment laws and policies and requires local governments to "strictly fulfill" their commitments and contracts with foreign investors.
SOME SIGNIFICANT ACHIEVEMENTS
While most laws are passed by the NPC's standing committee, which meets bimonthly, some important pieces of legislation have been passed by the whole body at its annual session.
They include a 2018 supervision law that sought to facilitate the anti-graft campaign; general provisions of the civil law in 2017 that laid out the first such guidelines since the founding of the communist state in 1949; tax and charity laws in 2007; and the 2005 anti-succession law that laid down the conditions under which China would attack Taiwan, the self-governing island democracy it claims as Chinese territory to be recovered by force if necessary.