All you need to know about China’s ‘Two Sessions’

The annual meetings of China’s parliament and political advisory body will see Xi Jinping installed as president for an unprecedented third term.

A wide-angle view of the NPC at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. There are balconies of seating. The stage below has rows of seats for officials and a red backdrop with a yellow hammer and sickle. There is a red star in the light at the centre of the roof
The NPC meets in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing [File: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters]

Thousands of delegates are making their way to Beijing from across China for the country’s annual legislative meetings, which start at the weekend and are closely watched for indications of where government policy might be headed.

The so-called “Two Sessions” get under way on March 4 with the annual meeting of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). The National People’s Congress (NPC) opens the following day. Proceedings are expected to continue for a couple of weeks.

In previous years, significant policies have been announced at the event.

In 2018, the congress voted to remove the traditional two-term limit on Chinese leaders, giving President Xi Jinping the chance to rule for life and two years later, delegates approved the sweeping national security law for Hong Kong following sometimes violent mass protests in 2019.

Here’s what you need to know about the meetings:

What is happening this weekend?

  • The 14th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference begins on Saturday (March 4), with Xi expected to give the opening speech. The CPPCC is an advisory body of party delegates and scholars from the arts, business, and legal worlds.
  • The 14th National People’s Congress (NPC) starts its sitting on Sunday (March 5) in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
  • Together, the two meetings are known as the “Lianghui” or “Two Sessions” and are the first to take place since China suddenly unwound its controversial zero-COVID policy.
  • Delegates will still be required to go through a “closed loop” system of testing and surveillance to reduce the risk of the virus, according to state media. Reporters covering the event will need to quarantine from Friday.
A woman walks among the delegates in the Great Hall of the People. She is wearing the traditional dress of one of China's ethnic minorities. It is a an embroidered and sequinned long green robe over a long orange dress. She is also wearing a green hat with embroider and feathers sticking out at the top. She is smiling. The man walking behind her is also smiling. Military officials are sitting on the rows of desks on either side. They have removed their hats and put them on the desks in front of them alongside their papers
China’s ethnic minorities will make up about 15 percent of the 2,977 delegates at the 14th NPC [File: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters]

What is the National People’s Congress?

  • Officially, the NPC is China’s national legislature and the “highest organ of State power” with the ability to amend the constitution. In reality, it is more of a rubber stamp, meeting once a year to approve policy that has already been decided by senior officials within the ruling Communist Party.
  • The full NPC typically has about 3,000 delegates who are chosen by China’s administrative units, autonomous regions and the armed forces. They hold office for five years.
  • In the 14th NPC, 790 (26.5 percent) of the 2,977 delegates are women and 442 (14.8 percent) are from ethnic minority groups.
  • The NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) also sits for five years and has about 170 members. It has the authority to appoint or remove top officials of central governmental bodies, ratify treaties, interpret national laws, grant special amnesties and confer state honours. The NPCSC continues its work outside the annual NPC sessions.
  • According to the NPC Observer, an online outlet that tracks the parliament’s activities, the full NPC has never voted down a single item on its agenda. There are usually less than a handful of votes against proposals. In March 2018, when the NPC voted in favour of abolishing presidential term limits, enabling Xi to rule for life, the vote was 2,958 for and two against.
  • China’s foreign minister, Qin Gang, will be making his first appearance at the NPC since his appointment. He is due to hold a press conference about the 14th NPC with domestic and foreign reporters on March 7, according to official news agency Xinhua.

What is on the agenda this year?

  • Xi, who is already the general secretary of the Communist Party, is expected to secure a third term as president during the 14th NPC.
  • Li Qiang, the second most powerful person in the party and a Xi protege, is due to be confirmed as China’s new Premier.
  • Observers will also be paying close attention to the party officials appointed to the State Council, China’s cabinet, the CPPCC and other party and state institutions.
  • At the opening session, delegates will be presented with the “Government Work Report”, which will set economic and policy goals for the year ahead and include a gross domestic product (GDP) forecast.
  • Chinese economists are expecting a target of above 5 percent for 2023, according to the state-run Global Times. The world’s second-biggest economy grew by just three percent last year.
  • “One of the most closely watched items is how China will set its growth target and relevant policies,” Guan Tao, the global chief economist at Bank of China’s BOC International told the Global Times. He thinks officials are likely to set a “more active tone” for the year, given the acceleration in economic activity since the zero COVID strategy was abandoned at the end of 2022.
People silhouetted against a blue sky and skyscrapers as they walk in Beijing.
The government will announce its GDP target for 2023 on the first day of the NPC [Aly Song/Reuters]
  • Motions and proposals submitted by the delegates also include initiatives to address China’s low birth rate after the country reported its first decline in population in 60 years. Suggestions include scrapping the requirement to be legally married to register and give birth and granting children born to unmarried parents equal rights.
Source: Al Jazeera