China's parliament opens with focus on Hong Kong democracy

Delegates applaud as China's President Xi Jinping (bottom C) arrives for the opening session of the National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 5, 2021. (Photo: AFP)

Beijing, China |China’s rubber-stamp parliament opened Friday with eliminating Hong Kong's political opposition on the agenda, a day after dozens of democracy campaigners in the city were jailed.



China has ushered in a sweeping crackdown against dissent in the former British colony after huge and often violent pro-democracy protests rocked the city in 2019.



As thousands of delegates gathered for China's week-long National People's Congress (NPC) in Bejing, the official news agency Xinhua said late Thursday the attendees would mull a draft measure on "improving the electoral system" of Hong Kong.



The territory dominated headlines during last year's NPC session, when delegates endorsed a tough security law designed to stamp out dissent there.



Chinese state media has run editorials in recent weeks saying "electoral loopholes" will be plugged, while officials have said only "staunch patriots" -- those loyal to the ruling Communist Party -- should be involved in governing Hong Kong.



Dozens of Hong Kong dissidents were jailed on Thursday for subversion in the broadest use yet of the security legislation enacted by Beijing last year.



The annual gathering of roughly 3,000 delegates, held in the cavernous Great Hall of the People in Beijing, is China's biggest political event of the year.



It is a highly choreographed display meant to drive home the unquestioned domestic power of the Communist Party while updating China and the world on the government's economic, political, environment and foreign policy priorities.



The event takes place with China outpacing other major economies after bringing the coronavirus pandemic, which first emerged on its soil, under control through draconian lockdowns and mass testing. 



At the opening of the session, China's leaders set a growth target for the world's second-biggest economy for 2021 of "above 6 percent".



"A target of over 6 percent will enable all of us to devote full energy to promoting reform, innovation, and high-quality development," Premier Li Keqiang will say in his address, according to an advance copy of his speech.



Li's speech is China's equivalent of a "state of the nation" address.



- Economic growth target -



Li traditionally uses the lengthy speech to reveal the growth target.



But he broke with precedent last year, providing no benchmark due to the "great uncertainty" of the pandemic.



The pandemic is now largely under control within its borders, though questions linger about Chinese missteps that allowed it to spread globally. 



Tight restrictions remain, especially in Beijing during the Congress session.



Planned or potential legislation includes a proposed revision to wildlife protection laws that would permanently ban eating most wildlife, amid the belief that the pandemic came from an animal host.



There also is a proposal to tighten data protection in a country that has embraced facial recognition, mobile payments and other digital solutions, but with attendant fears of identity theft.



Bills are nearly always overwhelmingly approved by the party-controlled chamber.



© Agence France-Presse


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