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Why China's "Two Sessions" Matter

Mar 21, 2018
  • Qin Xiaoying

    Research Scholar, China Foundation For Int'l and Strategic Studies

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The 2018 sessions of the National People's Congress (NPC) and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) have drawn particular attention not only for its unusually long duration - 15 days versus the usual 10 days, but for its agenda. The most important aspect of the sessions is the impact they leave behind.

There are few things that can match the significance of amending a country's constitution. Although the Chinese authorities called them "minor amendments and revisions", the Communist Party of China Central Committee's proposed amendments to the Constitution, from the time they were made public to the time they were approved by voting on March 11 at the 1st session of the 13th NPC, drew unprecedented attention. Chinese netizens have been reading between the lines since the proposed amendments were announced.

A significant institutional change endorsed during the "two sessions" was the establishment of the national and local Supervisory Committees. This was based on the country's experiences in fighting corruption in the past five years. Though the country has witnessed remarkable progress on this front, the campaign has met increasing resistance as it deepens, partly because of overlapping institutions and functions, over-staffed and inefficient anti-graft agencies, as well as some jurisprudential pitfalls. Such obstacles have increasingly resulted in doubts about whether the crackdown on corruption is sustainable. Creating the supervisory committee is obviously aimed at eradicating such institutional barricades. The spontaneous applause that arose when Wang Qishan, the country's chief graft buster, appeared in front of the ballot box showed the high expectations placed on the fight against corruption.

Following key decisions on the country's overall orientation and development strategies, their executers will become the decisive factor. This year's "two sessions", by electing the leaders of the country's legislative and advisory bodies as well as to the central government, will fulfill the task of restructuring the organizational framework of national governance which began after the CPC's 19th National Congress.

This year's "two sessions" also saw the beginning of a brand-new reform - large-scale reduction of CPC and government decision-making bodies, and restructuring within them. The Chinese administrative regime is known for being over-staffed and inefficient. It would be difficult to reduce redundancy without iron resolve. The task is even trickier because it can't be too fast or too slow, as that would cause chaos. Decision-makers must always consider where the money comes from and where the laid-off staff go. That the Xi Jinping-led national decision-makers have decided to conduct another reshuffle shows admirable confidence and resolve.

Aside from the political and personnel changes mentioned above, many NPC delegates and CPPCC members focused on issues regarding people's livelihoods, making the meetings more relevant to the general public. The most substantive part is what Premier Li Keqiang revealed in his report on government work - the country will fight three "tough battles" in 2018: prevent and resolve various risks, forcefully proceed with poverty alleviation, and present tangible results in environmental protection. None of the three battles can anticipate practical results in the near term without making progress in rural China, especially the central and Western regions, where the majority of the remaining poor reside. Socio-economic development will be out of the question until the conditions of the nearly 30 million poor improve significantly.

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