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National People's Congress

March 5, 2012

The Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao opened this year's National People's Congress addressing the economy and projecting a 7.5 percent growth rate for 2012. It is the last People's Congress Wen Jiabao will open as premier.

Chinese national flag is raised on Tiananmen Square
Image: dapd

The session opened on Monday with Premier Wen Jiabao unveilling a growth target of 7.5 percent. In light of the precarious situation of the world economy and after 2011's 9.2 percent growth rate, experts expect this year's congress to focus on steady economic growth. Chinese leaders also addressed the issue of inflation, setting a target of 4.0 percent, after consumer prices rose nearly six percent last year.

With around 3,000 delegates, the National People's Congress is the world's largest parliament. But the congress' power is very limited. It is and remains to be a rubber stamp institution which merely gives its blessing to decisions already made by the Communist Party, according to Joseph Cheng, political scientist at the University of Hong Kong. He says the party is wholly responsible for policy making; nonetheless, "at the National People's Congress, there is still room for discussion, for refinements, and so on. But the influence, the power, of the National People's Congress remains small."

Economic growth

Though the congress does not really possess any power, the legislative organ is an important forum for different factions of the ever-incumbent Communist Party.

A delegate smokes as he and others leave the Great Hall of the People after attending the opening session of the annual National People's Congress
Delegates leave the National People's Congress opening ceremonyImage: dapd

"What is the Chinese leaders' assessment of the economic situation? Will there be more stimulus measures? Will the government still hold tight with regard to money supply, trying to suppress inflation, trying to avoid too sharp a price rise in the real estate market, and so on?” Cheng told Deutsche Welle these questions are the most pressing and Wen Jiabao will have to provide answers to them.

Leadership change

China is up for a change in leadership this year. During the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party, which will take place in autumn, party leader Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao and their cabinets will make room for a new generation. Hong Kong journalist Willy Lam says it is a sensitive time for the government. The country's leadership wants to make an impression of unity and stability - cost that what it may.

"I don't think they will raise any contentious issues. This is the last year of Hu Jintao's leadership. So I think they will try to justify their lines and policies taken in the past 10 years," Lam told Deutsche Welle.

The conductor of a military band performs during the rehearsal before the opening ceremony of National People's Congress
China recently announced it will increase defense spendingImage: Reuters

But there is one issue that could ruin the face of harmony: the mystery surrounding Wang Lijun, former police chief of the central Chinese city of Chongqing. At the beginning of February, Wang fled to the US consulate in Chengdu. Then, according to reports, he left the consulate out of his own free will, and gave himself up to national security officers in Beijing. Wang has been missing ever since. He had been a confidant of Bo Xilai, party leader of the megacity Chongqing. Bo is fighting with all his power to get into China's innermost power circle - the Politburo Standing Committee, which will be appointing nine seats this year.

Power struggle?

What lead Wang to flee is unclear. Chinese media speculate that authorities were investigating him, which led Bo Xilai to turn his back on his former confidant. But it is also speculated that Wang might possess incriminating information on Bo Xilai, which would explain his getaway to the US consulate. Willy Lam is sure Bo will have to comment on the issue at the National People's Congress.

Wang Lijun
Wang Lijun might be involved in a power struggleImage: dapd

"This has now become a matter of international significance so they will give an explanation concerning what has happened to Wang Lijun."

Bo Xilai is a prominent advocate of the so-called "New Leftism" - a group opposed to capitalism and for stronger socialism. It is an ideological movement counter to that of the economic liberals. Experts believe the affair surrounding Wang Lijun is somehow related to a power struggle between the two opposing factions and their fight to gain seats in the Politburo Standing Committee.

Author: Christoph Ricking, Sarah Berning
Editor: Shamil Shams

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