Haunted by virus, China gears up for annual congress
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by Jing Xuan Teng
China’s biggest political event of the year opens Friday after months of delay over coronavirus fears, with President Xi Jinping determined to project strength and control over the outbreak despite international criticism and a wounded economy.
The 3,000 members of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s legislature, will gather in Beijing this week in highly choreographed meetings to rubber-stamp bills, budgets and personnel moves.
The annual gatherings have been occasions for the Communist Party to tout its achievements, set the country’s economic agenda and consolidate Xi’s power.
But this year’s congress comes on the back of the biggest challenge of Xi’s political life, with a virus that has killed thousands of people, paralysed the world’s second-biggest economy and sparked a bout of online criticism of the government.
The Communist Party put off the “Two Sessions”, originally scheduled for March, for the first time since the Cultural Revolution as the country battled the coronavirus, which surfaced in the central city of Wuhan late last year.
Since then, China’s official case numbers have dwindled even as millions were infected abroad, with Beijing now positioning itself as a success story and potential saviour for the world, offering billions of dollars in aid to fight the virus.
“This year’s Two Sessions will likely be an occasion for Xi Jinping to declare complete victory in the ‘people’s war’ over the virus,” Diana Fu, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto, told AFP.
But the atmosphere will continue to be “solemn and tense” amid fears of new infections, Gu Su, a professor of law and philosophy at Nanjing University, said.
The congress is expected to span seven days this year instead of the usual two weeks, state media reported.
Government officials who are not NPC representatives have been ordered to use video links and conference calls to observe the meetings instead of attending them in person, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
Journalists have been asked to follow most meetings via online video, while those living outside China have not been invited to report on the sessions. (AFP)