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What to watch for at the annual session of China’s parliament

[ 2014-03-04 09:40] 来源:中国日报网     字号 [] [] []  
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Each year in early March, thousands of delegates to China’s official lawmaking and top political advisory bodies gather in Beijing to rubber-stamp laws and policies decided by the country’s ruling Communist party.

And every year there is discussion about whether or not these gatherings of China’s National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Congress remain just a political pageant, or if the party is allowing more debate and consultation to creep into the process of “democracy with Chinese characteristics”.

The opening of the NPC in the morning on March 5 will see Premier Li read out his first government work report since he took office a year ago. The three-hour speech, in front of thousands of delegates and media in the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square, is said to be so gruelling that ageing Premiers in the past have had to be trained for hours to stand and read aloud without stopping to drink or take breaks.

The government’s 2014 annual budget will also be released in the morning on March 5.

Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of the People’s Bank of China, China’s central bank, will give a press conference that will be closely watched for hints about China’s plans for interest rate liberalisation and capital account opening.

On March 13 the NPC will hold its closing ceremony and then Premier Li will greet the public and the world for the premier’s annual press conference. This highly scripted event provides the key talking points that the government wants to convey to the nation and the outside world.

This year’s sessions will be watched especially closely as they are the first to be held since President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang formally took the reins of government at last year’s meetings. While the unveiling of any radical new policy agenda is unlikely, the nation will be watching for progress on the key reforms outlined by the Party during two important meetings late last year.

Growth targets: Of particular interest will be the figures Beijing announces as its growth targets for 2014. Most analysts expect the government to leave these unchanged from last year by announcing a growth target of 7.5 per cent, an inflation target of less than 3.5 per cent and M2 money supply growth of 13 per cent.

Any changes to these figures, which should be announced at the opening of the NPC on March 5, could provide a useful insight into how robust the leadership thinks the economy will be this year and how willing they are to accept lower rates of growth as they try to reform the country’s economic model.

Real estate policy: After years of ineffectual attempts to rein in overheated growth in the country’s booming property markets, there are some signs that China’s new leaders are preparing their own policies to bring down prices in residential markets, a perennial source of discontent among the country’s growing urban population.

The annual government report from the premier is often used to announce such policies.

Ethnic policies: Vicious knife attacks carried out by ethnic separatists from the rebellious Chinese region of Xinjiang on Saturday night left 29 innocent bystanders dead and 140 more injured. The attacks have thrown a spotlight on China’s repressive policies towards ethnic minorities and highlighted the simmering discontent among increasingly radicalised populations in the vast western stretches of the country.

The most likely response at the forthcoming political meetings will be expressions of resolve to “strike hard” and retaliate with “iron resolve” but look for any subtle change in wording in references to ethnic policy or any suggestion that China’s own policies may be responsible for the rise in violent separatist attacks.

State-owned companies reform: The government has said it wants to open up the state-owned sector to greater investment from private companies, but so far most moves in this direction appear to have been largely symbolic. Investors at home and abroad will be looking for signs of more serious commitment to reductions in state ownership in key areas of the country including energy, telecoms, transport and finance.

Pollution: Continued shocking levels of pollution across the country are expected to be high on the agenda at the meetings, especially after Beijing has just emerged from nearly two weeks of thick choking smog that prompted rare expressions of anger in China’s own state media.

The skies over Beijing traditionally clear for the opening of the political meetings as the party takes cars off the road, shuts down factories and uses artificial rain to make sure that nothing spoils the picture of a grand, harmonious and efficient governing structure. But even if the delegates themselves probably will not have to breathe the usually poisonous air, government plans to deal with the issue are still expected to be high on the agenda.

Foreign relations: Rising tension with Japan is likely to get at least a mention during the political sessions and Chinese warnings of heightened “Japanese militarism” could well be used to justify expected double-digit increases in China’s military budget.

Foreign policy analysts and governments throughout the Pacific will be watching to see if Beijing tones down or ramps up the rhetoric directed at Tokyo and also its neighbours bordering the disputed South China Sea.

Local government debt: The huge burden of debt built up by local governments across the country will be addressed at the meetings and particularly in Premier Li’s work report and in the annual budget. Local governments are likely to be given the go-ahead to issue more municipal bonds to allow them to better balance their books and reduce their reliance on borrowing from China’s state-owned banks.

Shadow banking: The rise of China’s huge, shadowy and largely unregulated alternative financial sector is a source of great concern to China’s leaders and to global investors alike, and the topic is likely to be addressed during the two meetings. New regulations and perhaps the assigning of responsibility for regulating the issue could both emerge during the 10 days of political jawboning.























(译者:吴溦 编辑:齐磊)