The annual meeting of the NPC takes place in
Beijing's Great Hall of the People [GALLO/GETTY]
The annual meeting of China's National People's Congress (NPC), the closest thing to China's parliament, is taking place in Beijing.

Al Jazeera Beijing correspondent Melissa Chan looks at what the NPC does and its role in the way China is governed.

What role does the NPC have in ruling China?

The NPC is the legislative branch of the Chinese leadership and it is made up of 3,000 members who meet every year during the spring.  

Their responsibilities include passing bills and approving the budget.  

In that sense, the NPC - which is also a highly covered domestic media event - is a way for the government to publicise its agenda to the people.

Who makes up the NPC membership and how are they picked?

The largest representation comes from the Communist party, which also effectively controls the selection process.  

The NPC is used by China's leaders to lay out
the agenda for the year ahead [GALLO/GETTY]
Delegates come from provincial congresses, who in turn are chosen from even lower level congresses.  

From a domestic perspective, therefore, the selection process involves a significant amount of local Communist politicking.

About one-third of the seats are made up of non-party members, including experts in economics, technology, and other fields important to the governance of the country.
 
What are expected to be the big issues at this year's NPC?

Hu Jintao, China's president, introduced the concept of building a "harmonious society" two years ago and this year's NPC is expected to continue to build on that theme.

The government recognises that the country faces particular social challenges, including a growing gap between the rich and poor and a countryside where hundreds of millions of Chinese have been left out of China's economic development.

The NPC brings delegates from across
China to Beijing [GALLO/GETTY]
Leaders also need to address a health and education system in urgent need of an update. And on a macroscopic level, there are environmental and energy concerns.  

Finally, delegates will be told that building a "harmonious society" means tougher action still to tackle corruption.
 
What real power does the NPC hold?

Previously, the NPC held a more symbolic role formally introducing legislation.

Over the past 10 years though, the annual meeting has become a forum to discuss policy differences among the various groups of the Communist party.  

Different parts of the government do hold different opinions and members are allowed to debate ideas in order to reach a consensus.  

Still, bills put before the NPC usually pass into law with a high vote count, and extremely rarely are proposals actually defeated.

What responsibilities do NPC members have during the rest of the year?

Delegates work on government policy in sub-committees.

Members and committees reach out for expert opinion, sometimes commissioning reports and research projects from outside individuals and/or NGOs.

Together they may work on an early draft of a law, then share that draft to other groups and then reconvene to make changes.

Throughout the process, the emphasis is on the importance of consensus-building so that by the time the bill is ready for the annual meeting, the hope is that delegates are in general agreement over the clauses.

Source: Al Jazeera