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China Congress meets amid Ukraine war

William Yang Taipei
March 4, 2022

Besides discussing the turmoil resulting from Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Chinese lawmakers will release the country's latest economic goals and fiscal spending plans.

China's National People's Congress venue
The NPC is a huge event on China's political calendarImage: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/REUTERS

The annual meeting of China's rubber-stamp parliament will kick off this Saturday, bringing together around 3,000 members of the National People's Congress (NPC) to discuss important issues such as setting GDP targets and laying out the economic blueprint for the coming year, while celebrating the government's achievements over the past year.

This year's meeting is overshadowed by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, China's slowing economy and the property market downturn. However, experts still expect China's top legislative body to focus on economic and social issues throughout the meetings.

"The NPC meetings focus more on economic, social and livelihood issues," said Wang Hsin-Hsien, a professor at the Graduate Institute of East Asian Studies at Taiwan's National Chengchi University (NCCU).

"Other international issues, including those involving Hong Kong and Taiwan, will receive less mentions during these meetings. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will focus more on what they have done over the past year and what they will do in the coming year."

Focus on domestic issues

While China has come under growing international scrutiny over its stance on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Wang said the topic will only be briefly addressed during the official meetings of the NPC.

As for issues concerning Taiwan, Wang believes Beijing will likely stick to the guidelines that it was championing in January, which focus on using a combination of military intimidation, offering social and economic benefits to Taiwanese people, as well as propaganda efforts to promote "unification" and deter the so-called pro-independence forces.

Taiwanese alarmed by events in Ukraine

"There won't be much in terms of details on Taiwan during the NPC, as I expect Beijing to save major political announcements related to Taiwan for the 20th party congress in fall," he added.

Much of the NPC's agenda remains unknown until during or after the weeklong meeting. Many sessions will take place behind closed doors. This year's NPC is shortened from the usual two weeks to a week and will be held under strict pandemic-control measures.

The NPC runs alongside the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body of people from various fields such as arts, business and law, as well as party delegates. Together, they're known as the "Two Sessions."

What will China's 2022 GDP target be?

Chinese lawmakers will release the country's latest economic goals and fiscal spending plans. 

According to China's state-run media outlet Global Times, GDP growth and investment will be high on the agenda.

China's economic expansion slowed to 4% in the final three months of 2021, despite starting the year with an 18.3% growth in the first quarter of 2021.

The economy was affected by both the ongoing property market downturn and a manufacturing sector troubled by China's strict "zero-COVID" strategies, including harsh lockdowns and stringent border controls.

Iris Pang, the ING Group's chief economist for Greater China, believes China's GDP growth target for 2022 could be around 6%.

It's important for China to set a GDP target as it serves as a guidance for businesses, she told DW. "Without this guidance, entities in the economy could lose direction."  

'Common prosperity' to dominate the NPC

A topic that has generated a lot of discussion on Chinese social media is the policy of "common prosperity," which the Chinese authorities have been promoting and implementing since last year.

The policy has cost some of China's biggest firms billions of dollars in value in recent months.

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Still, Chinese President Xi Jinping has insisted that it is needed to narrow the widening wealth gap in society.

"We will first make the pie bigger and then divide it properly through reasonable institutional arrangements. As a rising tide lifts all boats, everyone will get a fair share from development, and development gains will benefit all our people in a more substantial and equitable way," Xi said during a speech at the World Economic Forum in January 2022.

Wu Qiang, a political analyst and former lecturer at Tsinghua University, says common prosperity will dominate this year's NPC.

"So far, Beijing's execution of the policy seems to focus on two aspects: cracking down on the super-rich and expanding the middle-income class. However, it remains unclear how the government wants to achieve the goal of expanding the middle-income class," he said.

"There are no clear guidelines about the policy's implementation, so one key area to keep an eye on is whether the details proposed by the government during the NPC can satisfy the demands of the middle class," he added.

Paving way for Xi Jinping's third term

The NPC is the biggest event on China's political calendar before a twice-a-decade party congress later this year.

Xi will likely use the event to further shore up support ahead of the congress, where he's likely to clinch an unprecedented third term as president.

China's legislature abolished a term limit on the presidency in 2018, clearing the way for Xi to hold on to power indefinitely.

"All the legislative planning and political recommendations made during the NPC are all going to play a role in Xi's pursuit of his third term," Wu said.

Putin and Xi against the West

Taiwanese scholar Wang stressed that Xi's likely third term will be an important backdrop to this year's NPC, because it is part of a series of major political events over the past year designed to consolidate Xi’s power in China.

"From the 100th anniversary of the CCP, the Sixth Plenary Session in November 2021, to the Winter Olympics and this year's NPC, it is a series of major political tasks to ensure the smooth convening of the 20th party congress and Xi's reelection," he underlined.

To highlight the success and superiority of China's governance model, Wang said Beijing will use the NPC to highlight the success of its "zero COVID" policy.

"I think China will continue to highlight the importance of the 'dynamic zero COVID policy' because it is a model that they believe reflects China's superiority over Western countries," he said.

As for whether China will consider a transition from zero COVID to "coexisting with the virus," Wang thinks it won't happen until the party congress in the fall. "Since the party congress is an important political event this year, China won't announce any plan to coexist with the virus before then, because it can't afford any slip-up before then."

Edited by: Srinivas Mazumdaru