If you are interested in observing China’s political life and could come only once a year, then you had better to visit Beijing in March, as this is the so-called “Two-Session Month”. Every March the state parliament–National People’s Congress (NPC) and the top state advisory body– the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) convene their annual sessions in parallel.
The CPPCC is an important part of Chinese political system but less known to the outside world. The founding of the CPPCC predated the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and exercised the legislature power and adopted a provisional constitution before the NPC in position in 1954. Now the CPPCC mainly functions as a political organ for sharing political power, seeking governance advice, cementing ties with fellow Chinese in Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan and foreign lands. Since the 21st century, the CPPCC has also energized its international contacts and exchanges. All these contribute to the Chinese multi-party cooperation, which is also called participatory politics by some political observers.
Some people think that CPPCC is China’s Upper House, but this is not true in a legal sense as the Chinese parliament is a uni-chamber one (NPC). However, the CPPCC enjoys constitutional status defined as: [The CPPCC] has played a significant historical role and will continue to do so in the political and social life of the country. According to the CPPCC Charter, it is an important institution of political consultation, democratic supervision and participation in the deliberation and administration of state affairs for all democratic parties, mass organizations and representative figures from all ethnic groups and sectors of society.
Unity and democracy are the two key words as the CPPCC guiding principles. The CPPCC aims at achieving political cohesiveness and social stability by the broadest possible representation in China’s political, economic, social and cultural lives. The CPPCC provides a platform for the social elites to air their views and participate in politics aiming at unity of diversity. CPPCC organizations from central to the township levels stand side by side with the ones of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), People’s Congress and People’s Governments, collectively known as the Four Leading Teams (FLD) of Chinese governance. The FLD has a clear but related division of labor. The CCP holds political leadership. The NPC performs legislature functions. The government carries out its governing task. The CPPCC provides advice and supervision. The quartet governs a country of 1.3 billion people on an intricate balances and checks with distinctive Chinese characteristics.
The CPPCC has three main functions. Political consultation refers to pre-decision making consultation on general national and local principles and policies and on major issues in political, economic, cultural and social activities and consultation on major problems arising in the process of their implementation.
Supervision is carried out by means of suggestions and criticism on the enforcement of the state’s Constitution, laws and regulations, the implementation of general principles and policies, and the performance of duties by state organs and their functionaries. CPPCC committees and members take the supervision as one of its most important jobs, especially on the budgetary matters, people’s living issues and corruption cases. In recent years voices are raised for more systemic and institutional supervision so as to achieve more effective results.
Participation in the deliberation and administration of state affairs involves conducting investigations and studies, reporting on social conditions and popular sentiments, and undertaking consultation and discussion about the important problems arising in political, economic, cultural and social activities, and the issues which the general public is concerned about. As many of the CPPCC members are professionals and veteran government officials, their participation is often of great influence and effectiveness. This outside-government networking has broadened the basis of Chinese political democracy. But the other side of the coin is that the large membership and older ages prevent the CPPCC from showing more political energy and focus.
Unlike the NPC, the CPPCC has no legislature power and performs its duty mainly through meetings, proposals, inspections and reporting. However, the prior and post consultation on major state affairs, the paralleled sessions of the NPC and CPPCC, the CPPCC leaders political weight and the elite’s influence have granted the CPPCC a de facto say in the Chinese decision-making processes. Moreover, the CPPCC has become more skillful in using public opinion and media to enhance its political power and influence.
The members from Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan and overseas have enabled the CPPCC to perform in a freer and more lively ways. Their special backgrounds facilitate the CPPCC to look at the agendas and topics from a wider perspective and to become more inclusive and tolerate to different opinions. They are also bolder to vote or say No to the mainstream ideas and judgments.
The CPPCC international activities are another indication of China’s pluralistic and diversifying trends in its overall diplomacy and foreign relations. In recent years the CPPCC increased its international presence and reception of foreign visitors. These activities are considered as a part of the Chinese public diplomacy and increasingly of substances, such as promoting economic and trade relations as well as cultural and people-to-people exchanges.
All in all, the CPPCC may not be perfect but it has worked for more than 60 years. To have a closer and deeper look at this political organ could help us understand better why and how China could achieve what it has and point the future direction as well.
Guo Yuanyuan is an independent political analyst based in Beijing.