China's legislature to meet in May after virus delay

Chinese leaders sing the national anthem during the closing session of the National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing's Great Hall of the People on March 15, 2019. GREG BAKER / AFP
  • Agence France-Presse
  • April 29, 2020 6:21 AM

Beijing, China | China's top legislature will hold its annual session next month after postponing the meeting for the first time in decades due to the coronavirus outbreak, official news agency Xinhua said Wednesday.

The Communist Party leadership announced in February that it would put off the annual National People's Congress (NPC) for the first time since the Cultural Revolution as the country battled the coronavirus outbreak, which has since become a pandemic.

The rescheduled session on May 22 will be seen as a sign of confidence by the leadership that the country has largely brought its outbreak under control.

Top Communist Party leaders including President Xi Jinping attend each year's gathering with delegates from across the country, to rubber-stamp bills, budgets and personnel moves already decided by the party.

According to a statement cited by Xinhua from the NPC Standing Committee -- the body that oversees the legislative session -- the epidemic in China is "improving steadily" and "normal economic and social life is gradually resuming".

This means the "conditions for convening the NPC annual session... are ready," the statement said.

The annual gathering was originally due to start on March 5.

While most of the lockdown restrictions imposed on the epicentre of Hubei province have now been lifted, there are still strict quarantine measures on those arriving in the capital Beijing from other parts of China.

It was not immediately clear how that process would affect the gathering of nearly 3,000 delegates.

- 'Show of strength' -

"This is a show of strength," said Hong Kong-based political analyst Willy Lam.

"It's a sign that China is back on its feet, and the economic machinery keeps humming, and a big reassurance to the people that the epidemic is over."

Lam said the announcement was also aimed at the domestic audience, to reassure Chinese citizens after a sharp 6.8 percent contraction in the first quarter's economic growth.

China's official number of infections have dwindled dramatically over the last month, with no new deaths reported for two weeks straight.

The NPC's Standing Committee said at the time the gathering was postponed that the top officials who would normally attend the meeting should prioritise tackling the virus in their home regions.

The NPC is used to portray the government as answerable to the people's representatives, but its deliberations are pre-determined well in advance and the whole event is tightly choreographed by the Communist Party.

Nevertheless, it generates global interest as a glimpse into China's political and economic policy priorities for the coming year.

It has been held every year since 1978, and on March 5 specifically for the past two decades.

Xinhua said earlier this week that there was a plan to create or revise 17 health-related laws this year and next, including a biosecurity law and a revised law on "animal epidemic prevention".

Chinese scientists have said the virus emerged from a food market which reportedly sold exotic wild animals for human consumption.



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