China’s Two Sessions & U.S. Presidential Politics

This past week China wrapped up its annual 10-day plenary sessions of the National People’s Congress (NPC), and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). Given the complicated acronyms, much less the names, however, most Chinese simply refer to them as the ‘two sessions.’

These two bodies are the country’s top legislative and political advisory forums, respectively, and are attended by more than 5,000 deputies and members from all walks of life, including artists, movie stars, and sports stars. (Yao Ming attended again this year – he’s hard to miss in a crowd.) All 56 ethnic groups are represented as well and many wear the elaborate traditional clothing and headwear of their ethnic group, giving the meetings an air of traditional Chinese formality and visual richness.

Much of the time is devoted to working reports by the government’s various bureaus and department heads. The delegates do, however, have the opportunity to submit their own ideas for consideration and many do.

One of the benefits of the Chinese legislative process is that the president and premier are appointed for one ten-year term and the legislature and government departments work with five-year plans. This year the two sessions focused on the 13th Five-Year Plan, highlighted by seven key issues:

  1. Poverty alleviation
  2. Supply-side reform
  3. One Belt, One Road Initiative
  4. Charity Law
  5. Reform of the judicial system
  6. Green development
  7. Anti-corruption

A couple of notes in passing. There was no mention of the South China Sea. There was no mention of the Diaoyu Islands. And, thank goodness, there was no mention whatsoever of the U.S. presidential elections. In fact, when asked at the closing press conference what impact the U.S. presidential elections might have on China, Premier Li Keqiang effectively said, ‘none.’

And, I believe, that was more of a practical observation than a personal or ideological one. With the advent of the 24/7/365 media cycle, and no corresponding adjustment to the U.S. political calendar, the practical effect is non-stop electioneering. And that, of course, results in a non-stop stalemate. If Americans are frustrated, and Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are certainly proving that they are, their angst can be summed up in one word – nothing.

It’s not that people don’t like what’s happening. It’s not even that they have a strong preference for doing something else. It’s their frustration with the fact that in the world of politics the new normal is – well, do nothing.

That’s particularly unfortunate because as the activity cycle has shortened, the necessary action cycle has elongated. Nobody expects we are going to fix climate change overnight. Nobody expects we are going to eliminate poverty in one election cycle. No one thinks for a minute that one administration is going to have the kind of impact on the world that might have been the case in the era of Lincoln or Roosevelt.

I personally believe that #3 above, the One Belt, One Road Initiative may be the most brilliant idea yet. If you’re not familiar with it the basic idea is to revive the old Silk Road, bringing economic prosperity to the western provinces of China and the western countries of the old Soviet Union and the eastern countries of Europe.

This bloc could easily, over time, rival NAFTA in terms of economic power and, not coincidentally, is home to a lot of people who don’t particularly like the West. That’s not to suggest, for a minute, that is why China is pursuing this very long-term strategy. It is merely to say that the Chinese are pragmatists. Whatever else you hear on the nightly news, they stand less on ideology than the West does.

For me the most overriding aspect of the Two Sessions this year was the degree to which the agendas were inwardly focused. They talked about China and the Chinese people. There was no grandstanding about this despot and that tyrant and their backroom deal to end life as we Westerners know it. There was only talk about how do we improve people’s lives – economically, environmentally, and in terms of social and judicial justice.

Not bad.

The point really hit home for me the other day when I was Face Timing with my daughter, now 15, and living in the U.S. She has never voted in a presidential election. She has no memory of the Clintons or the Bushs or even the Trumps. But her unsolicited opinion was that America has lost its mind and that the best vote this time around would be the person who will do the least harm to the world.

Me? I don’t do politics. But I do like Bernie. He gets it and he has heart and that still counts for something in my book.

But, in the end, I agree with Premier Li – it really doesn’t matter. We’re arguing over building big walls to keep out the immigrants and China is laying plans for a new Silk Road. We’re wondering what the going rate for a 20-minute speech to Goldman Sachs should be (nothing, in my opinion) for a former government official who was paid by the taxpayers while building her speaking resume, and the Chinese have put poverty alleviation at the top of their latest five-year agenda.

Go figure.


Some early praise for the author’s latest book, “Understanding China – There is reason for the difference”

“An insightful, compelling introduction to the intricacies of Chinese business and life.” – Kirkus Review

To see the full review from this prestigious literary company, please click on this direct link:

“Understanding China is a “must-read” for anyone interested in culture, working with Asian businesses, visiting China or simply if you enjoy a well-written book! I worked in China in the 90’s and while I eventually understood the differences, I never understood “why” until now. Moreau does a great job explaining the “why”. Well done!!”

(Not a relative!)

“Having done business and gone on personal journeys through the Asia Pacific region, I wish I’d read a book like this first. The premise is that being happy and effective in China requires more than just learning how things operate and working within the established system. This will bring frustration and leave you ineffective because you, the Westerner, will still be looking at these cultural differences as irrational. Mr. Moreau contends that only by understanding why things are the way they are in China and in the West can a Westerner actually influence outcome in China.

The author proceeds to explain the differences with very engaging writing that made me say, “Of, of course! It all makes sense now.”

(Also not a relative!)

Copyright © 2016 Gary Moreau

Gary Moreau Beijing, China
Gary Moreau
Beijing, China

Note: The views expressed in this post are strictly those of the writer acting in a personal capacity.

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