This past week China held the 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.’
Together the two sessions 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 this year.) 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.
Many Chinese themselves are confused about the intent of these meetings, so the state news agency, Xinhua, provided a helpful Q&A to clear up some of the confusion.
The NPC is China’s top legislative body but Xinhua suggests it is much more than that as it has many functions and powers, including the enforcement of the Chinese constitution and appoints key positions including the chief justice and chief prosecutor.
Township and county level deputies are appointed through direct elections, while the deputies at the prefecture, provincial, and national levels are elected by the lower level deputies. None are paid, although subsidies are provided to those with no other fixed income.
On balance it appears to be an opportunity for the Party and the government to tout the accomplishments of the past year and announce its agenda for the year through high-level work reports. In essence it seems to work in the inverse of a normal legislature. Instead of developing legislation for the executive branch to consider, it considers the legislative agenda developed by the executive branch. And this year, at least, endorses it wholeheartedly.
Perhaps most importantly it is at this meeting that the Premier announces the country’s economic growth target for the year. This year Premier Li Keqiang announced that China would seek GDP growth of 7% in 2015, the lowest level in 25 years, emphasizing that the government was more interested in the quality of growth – improving people’s lives – than the growth of China’s trade imbalance and foreign currency reserves.
One of the more interesting work reports was provided by Cao Jianming, the procurator general of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate (SPP), the agency responsible for the new administration’s attack on corruption.
Cao reported that 28 officials at the provincial, ministerial, and higher level were placed under judicial investigation for corruption last year, an increase of 8 ‘tigers’, as they are known, from the prior year. The group included Zhou Yongkang, a member of the powerful Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, and Xu Caihou, former vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, the head of the People’s Liberation Army and the enforcement arm of the CPC itself.
In total, according to Cao’s report, 14,062 public servants were punished last year for embezzlement and abusing power. A total of 55,101 people were investigated for duty-related crimes and 7,827 bribers themselves faced prosecution.
For me, the most amazing statistic cited was that 749 fugitive officials suspected of corruption were forcibly repatriated from 17 countries and regions, including the United States and Canada. This is perhaps one of the strongest indications yet of China’s growing global power and influence. I dare say that China would not have received this level of diplomatic and legal support from the Western democracies a decade ago given the lack of appropriate treaties between China and these countries.
The delegates didn’t just listen to reports, however. The delegates submitted a total of 522 motions for consideration, an increase of 54 motions over the prior year. The vast majority, according to China Daily, related to economic and judicial reform, the foundation of the CPC’s current legislative platform.
Pollution, of course, was also a hot topic and Premier Li once again pledged unwavering government action. It has been amply noted by the foreign press that Chai Jing’s documentary, Under the Dome, has been taken down from the Chinese Internet after receiving 200 million hits, but unlike most foreign journalists, I don’t see that so much as a sign of hypocritical censorship as an understandable effort not to take the spotlight off the important work of the two sessions. Politicians around the world often play to the media news cycle.
President Xi and Premier Li, I believe, have amply demonstrated their acceptance of the reality that providing higher salaries is not enough. The Chinese people want a better quality of life and I believe the Chinese government sincerely ‘gets it’. We’ll see how sincere the people really are if jobs start to become scarce but the government and the people are truly aligned.
There are not many countries on the planet that you can honestly say that about these days.
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Copyright © 2015 Glassmaker in China
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