National People’s Congress sets the tone in China

National People’s Congress sets the tone in China

The annual gathering of the National People’s Congress, which runs through March 16, represents an important chance for the CCP’s leadership to consolidate its power, but also a critical opportunity to tackle political, economic and social issues that are affecting the stability of the country.

The National People’s Congress: Xi’s consolidation

Since 3 March, Beijing has been invaded by a colorful crowd of Chinese Community Party (CCP) members coming from all over the country to join the two sessions of the National People’s Congress (NPC), the supreme branch of the PRC that convenes every year in a formal session to rubber-stump important decisions that have already been taken by the elites of the CCP.  

The NCP plays a crucial role in supervising the work of the other strategic bodies such as the State Council and the State Central Military Commission and it is a valuable tool for the CCP to strengthen the government’s image of transparency and responsiveness.

This year coincides with the approval of the upcoming the 13th Five-year Plan that will shape China’s economic development over the next five years. During the inaugural session of “the Meetings” on March 5th the Prime Minister, Li Keqiang, remarked on the valuable social and economies achievements, reached by China in the last year.

While the NCP represents the most important official political meeting in the eye of Chinese public opinion, it merely implements decisions taken by the CCP Politburo. Yet, the event is also an important opportunity for the CCP leadership to assess the progress made towards the achievements of relevant policy goals and presents a venue for strengthening political alliances and ensuring the consolidation of a solid power base for rising members of the party.

The undisputed protagonist of the NCP remains President Xi who has successfully navigated the turbulent waters of Chinese politics. In the last few years, through a sharp strategy characterized by extensive purges inside the CCP—nearly 300,000 members were expelled or incarcerated on corruption charges—and power centralization inside the most strategic party bodies, President Xi has created formidable conditions to fulfill his political ambitions.

In 2017, five of seven members of the powerful Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) will retire due to the age limit which will finally allow President Xi to handpick the new leadership among his most loyal aids. Both Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao inherited the board composition of the PSC from Deng Xiaoping and as in the case of Hu, the diverse interests inside the PSC limited his ability to fulfill his agenda. On the other hand, President Xi’s leadership has successfully undermined the CCP’s political tradition of collective leadership and has largely increased his personal control over the party.

NCP spotlight: economic renovation and green growth

Over the course of 2015 China experienced a marked slowdown with a modest 6.9 % of growth after nearly 25 years of solid economic expansion, generating spill-over effects in global markets. While NPC, Premier, Li Keqiang, announced a growth target of 7 % during his NPC speech, analysts remain concerned over Beijing’s ability to maintain a rate of even 6.5%.

In the last six months, economic turbulence has shaken the image of China’s rising economic power, expanding the level of discussions inside the leadership vis-à-vis the acceleration of economic reforms strongly advocated by President Xi. In order to ensure China’s safe transition towards a more dynamic and prosperous model of economic development, structural reforms such as boosting the level of competitiveness of State-owned Enterprises (SEOs) and reducing the CCP’s administrative control while maintaining power are the most urgent goals included by President Xi under the new slogan “Four Consciousnesses”.

The biggest news placed on the table by Premier Li has been the importance of fostering a model of eco-friendly growth, including for the very first time marked limits to energy consumption. The rising level of pollution in China has become a major issue not only for citizens but also for Chinese leadership increasingly concerned about global carbon-dioxide emissions. While in the past Beijing’s priorities over industrialization and massive urbanization have pushed the CCP to reject the Clean Development Mechanism defined by the Kyoto Protocol in 1992, this new shift suggests that Beijing could benefit from lifting pricing controls over natural resources and encouraging the expansion of the green economy.

Political power grows out of the barrel of the gun

While China’s economy slows down, defense spending is expected to maintain a steady growth of 7.6 % for this year, the lowest increase of Beijing’s military budget in nearly twenty years. China under the Li-Xi Administration has pursued a more assertive foreign policy focused on the defense of Beijing’s core interests in the region and the slight decrease in military spending compared to the  double-digit boom between 2010 and 2015, reflects the need for the Chinese leadership to unveil a new strategy to allocate resources for its military force more efficiently as unveiled by the recent PLA’s reforms under President Xi.

Yet, there is no doubt that China’s military spending is expected to keep growing in the next years, given Beijing’s determination to safeguard its core interests and at the same time expand its power projection and asymmetrical capabilities, vital to protect its strategic assets in the region or worldwide. The CCP leadership relies on the expansion of military strength as the more efficient tool to protect national sovereignty while also challenging the core structure of the regional security architecture in the Asia-Pacific. China’s military forces need to enhance the level of hi-tech sophistication in order to upgrade the level of the country’s strategic forces as stressed by President Xi in his recent address to the NCP..

The pursuit of Chinese military force modernization has represented one of the most urgent goals for President Xi, characterized by a push for cutting-edge military hardware and real combat capacity, able of quick deployment in the region and able to respond to international crises around the world where Beijing’s core strategic interests could be jeopardized. As stressed by the 2015 White Paper, enhancing the level of national defense through the creation of modern and highly-trained forces is the most critical task for the CCP which envisions the return of regional and global power of a China past.   


Categories: Asia Pacific, Politics

About Author

Daniele Ermito

Daniele Ermito is a London-based analyst. He is also a GRI analyst and regular contributor for the Foreign Policy Association, where he writes mostly on the Koreas ‘blog. He holds a BA (Hons) in International Relations from the University of Bologna and a MSc in Asian Politics from the School of Oriental and African Studies. His areas of research include Northeast Asia security, Japanese politics and Chinese foreign policy. You can follow him on Twitter @DanielRmito.