In China, it is that time of year again. The National People’s Congress, the highest state body and only legislative house in the country, will meet for the next two weeks. Top of the agenda are the financial crisis and how to stem the tide of social problems.
Beijing's Great Hall of the People where the annual National People's Congress takes place
The "army of yes men" is an oft-used derisive term for China’s parliament. From 5. March, 3,000 yes men and women will discuss and vote on upcoming government measures and bills.
One of these is a four trillion yuan (500 billion euro) stimulus package. The global financial crisis has not spared China’s booming economy.
"China’s exports have taken a sharp plunge,” explains Doris Fischer, an expert on Chinese economy at the German Development Institute in Bonn. “Exports have also been falling in other Asian countries.”
“China is part of an international production chain in the sense that it imports goods from other Asian countries, which it processes and then exports to industrialised countries. The recent collapse of imports from Asia is a sign that exports could plunge even more over the next few months.”
Boosting domestic demand to create jobs
Apart from the stimulus package, the delegates will vote on other measures to weather the crisis. The government especially wants to boost domestic demand and create new jobs.
According to the official figures, there are 20 million unemployed migrant workers. These have always tended to work in the export-oriented processing industries, which have now been hit by the crisis.
In sharp contrast to past congresses, there were some active efforts this time to discover what issues the Chinese people are interested in.
For two hours, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao chatted with Internet users via the state news agency Xinhua’s website. Xinhuanet.com received 100,000 messages.
The site also ran a survey to find out what users thought should top the agenda at the Congress. 75 percent said that fighting corruption was the most pressing issue.
Tense relationship between government and population
Hu Xingdou from the Beijing Institute for Technology was not surprised by this result: “It shows that the relationship between the government and the population is very tense. The population’s dissatisfaction has almost reached its limit. Far too much public money is spent on officialdom and in haphazard fashion.”
“It is extremely difficult to press charges against people who are suspected of corruption,” he continued. “The government should develop appropriate and effective measures against corruption. This way the relationship with the population might become less tense.”
It is especially important for this relationship to be less tense this year in which there are several sensitive anniversaries coming up. 10. March will mark the 50th anniversary of the failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule.
Just a few days later, there will be the first anniversary of China’s brutal crackdown on initially peaceful demonstrations by Tibetan monks last year. June will see the 20th anniversary of the massacre on Tiananmen Square. Questions such as what exactly happened and how many people died remain taboo in China.
It is unlikely that any of the 3,000 yes men at the Congress will have the courage to address this and other taboo themes. However, increasingly the feeling is growing in China that the National People’s Congress should be an open forum.