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China is getting ready for its yearly legislative gatherings amidst challenges in the economy.

China is getting ready for its yearly legislative gatherings amidst challenges in the economy.

This week, Beijing will host the annual Two Sessions or “lianghui,” where thousands of Chinese policymakers and politicians will convene.

The upcoming meetings will provide an early look at the Chinese government’s plans for the year ahead. The first meeting, on March 4, will be the annual gathering of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. This will be followed by the annual legislative session of China’s parliament on March 5, during which Premier Li Qiang will present his first government work report.

In the midst of a decline in the economy and turmoil within the Chinese Communist Party over the past year, experts predict that this year’s meetings will focus on how Beijing will address economic challenges, potentially prioritize national security, and discuss cross-strait relations and personnel appointments.

“According to Wen-ti Sung, a political scientist at the Australian National University, the two sessions will serve as a crucial measure of the stability within the Chinese Communist Party amidst ongoing economic challenges. The ability of the party leadership to generate consensus and establish feasible policy goals will be a significant factor in evaluating the level of unity within the party.”

Economic challenges

After abandoning the zero-COVID approach in late 2022, China has encountered a multitude of economic hurdles, such as real estate companies failing to pay their debts, a record-high unemployment rate among young people, decreased consumer and household faith, and decreased demand from foreign markets.

In 2024, following a period of slow economic growth, Chinese stock values dropped to their lowest point in five years. The country’s top real estate companies, Evergrande and Country Garden, are facing severe difficulties due to their high levels of debt. One company has been ordered to liquidate, while the other has received a petition for liquidation.

In light of this situation, certain specialists argue that Beijing probably will not introduce significant changes to the economy during the Two Sessions.

Dexter Roberts, the director of China affairs at the University of Montana’s Mansfield Center, expressed doubt over whether or not Beijing will proceed with further substantial economic reform, in a telephone conversation with VOA.

According to Roberts, despite discussions among high-ranking Chinese authorities about the importance of economic reform in the past decade, President Xi Jinping and other top leaders in China do not support relinquishing control over the economy, despite the need for such actions to effectively tackle long-standing economic issues.

Experts, such as Roberts, believe that Beijing will aim to emphasize two economic principles that have been emphasized by top Chinese leaders, including Xi, in the past year: high-quality development and new productive forces. These refer to developmental strategies that place less emphasis on large-scale stimulus efforts and instead prioritize innovation.

Roberts explained to VOA that the focus is on achieving high-quality development, even if it means accepting slower growth, by identifying new sources of economic growth like innovative technologies. He does not anticipate significant stimulus measures to be implemented during the Two Sessions.

The primary decision-making group, the Politburo, declared that they will use fiscal measures to bolster the weak economy. The group of 24 political leaders pledged to establish a consistent and foreseeable policy atmosphere by reinforcing fiscal strategies and maintaining adaptable, reasonable, and accurate monetary policies.

Despite challenges in the economy, Roberts predicts that China will establish a 2024 growth goal of 5%. He noted that the 26 largest cities in China have already set their targets slightly above 5%, indicating that the overall national target will likely align with this figure.

National security

According to some analysts, preserving national security will continue to be a significant focus at this year’s Two Sessions. Recently, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress voted to amend the Law on Protecting State Secrets, expanding the scope of information that is deemed a threat to national security.

According to Wang Hsin-hsien of National Chengchi University, Xi has been advocating for a governance model that prioritizes national security. While this year’s two sessions will mainly center around economic policies, the Chinese government will also address security and coordinated development. Wang shared this insight in a phone interview with VOA.

The speaker mentioned that China’s Ministry of State Security has taken on a greater role in matters that were not previously their main focus in the past few months, hinting at a potential increase in their influence in recent times.

According to certain experts, security has become the dominant concern in Chinese governance. Alfred Wu, a specialist in Chinese politics at the National University of Singapore, stated in a phone interview with VOA that security now takes precedence over other matters such as the economy and diplomacy.

Cross-strait stance

Many experts believe that it is crucial to monitor China’s stance and language towards cross-strait relations during the Two Sessions, as a new administration will assume power in Taiwan in May. Beijing has consistently portrayed the incoming president as a separatist and has promised to aggressively oppose any moves towards Taiwanese independence.

Wang, a resident of Taiwan, stated to VOA the importance of observing the language used by Chinese leaders when discussing the Taiwan matter in the government work report. Additionally, it is crucial to monitor whether Beijing plans to make any changes to the anti-secession law, which may indicate potential use of force against Taiwan.

He stated that Beijing is not likely to implement any new policies regarding relations between Taiwan and China.

Experts predict that Beijing will appoint a new foreign minister during the two sessions, as former Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang officially resigned as a lawmaker on Wednesday.

It is widely anticipated that Liu Jianchao, the Chinese Communist Party’s representative for international affairs, will be appointed to the position.

Roberts stated that Liu is charismatic and has proficient English speaking abilities. He believes that Liu is the ideal candidate for the role of Chinese foreign minister.

“He stated that as Xi has indicated a desire to improve China’s relationship with the United States, the appointment of Liu could potentially be advantageous for the bond between the two countries.”