Beijing gathering focuses on ensuring stability for power handover


CHINA’S ANNUAL parliament meets this week in the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square in downtown Beijing, the most public outing of the year for the Communist Party’s elite.

The chief objective of the 10-day meeting will be to ensure stability as outgoing leaders, president Hu Jintao and prime minister Wen Jiabao, prepare for this autumn’s murky process of handing over power to likely successors Xi Jinping, who recently visited Ireland, and Li Keqiang.

The leadership handover won’t be mentioned at the gathering of about 3,000-odd delegates, known in China as the Two Meetings. It is made up of the advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPCCC) and the National People’s Congress (NPC). Delegates will rubberstamp bills set before them by the Communist Party leadership.

Stark rises in inflation have been tamed and the government has tried to moderate growth and keep the property market from overheating. However, there are still concerns the economy might face a hard landing, especially as the export market remains slow.

The government also has to cope with a wave of demonstrations by farmers and migrant workers over a widening wealth gap.

The programme includes the approval of a hike in defence spending. China wants to underline its role as a rising nation with a 11.2 per cent increase of its military spend to 670.2 billion yuan (€80.6 billion).

The country’s defence spending is the largest in the world after the US, although it could be up to 50 per cent higher once missiles and other areas are factored in.

“China is committed to the path of peaceful development and follows a national defence policy that is defensive in nature,” NPC spokesman Li Zhaoxing said.

“China has 1.3 billion people, a large territory and long coastline, but our defence spending is relatively low compared with other major countries,” he said, trying to soothe the rattled nerves of China’s neighbours, who fear it might be tooling up to use force in regional standoffs, including territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

The NPC is also expected to address regional development and a huge programme of urbanisation that has seen the number of city-dwellers exceed rural residents.

The hottest political topic, certainly in terms of stability, is Tibet.

Beijing’s appointee as Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu, a delegate at the CPCCC, will have a high profile at the congress as the government tries to win over restive Tibetans and deal with the fallout from a wave of immolations and street protests in the Himalayan region.

China has stepped up security and tightened controls in temples and monasteries to bring the situation under control. The Panchen Lama, is the second most powerful figure after the Dalai Lama in the Tibetan Buddhist hierarchy, but most Tibetans do not accept him because he was appointed by Beijing. The original boy selected by the Dalai Lama in 1995, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, disappeared and has not been heard from since.

Last week, Chinese security forces shot dead a Tibetan monk and his brother, who had been on the run since taking part in protests in Sichuan province.

More than 20 Tibetans have set fire to themselves in protest at Chinese policies since March 2011.

Other threats to harmony could come from within the Communist Party’s own ranks. All eyes will be on Bo Xilai, the party chief of Chongqing, who became a national figure by battling organised crime and promoting communist nostalgia and who has ambitions to ascend to Communism’s top table, the Politburo Standing Committee.