Social concerns among issues on agenda at China's annual congress

Chinese People's Liberation Army delegates march to attend a pre-opening session of the National People's Congress in Beijing yesterday. photograph: getty images

Chinese People's Liberation Army delegates march to attend a pre-opening session of the National People's Congress in Beijing yesterday. photograph: getty images

Tue, Mar 5, 2013, 00:00

The red flag flew prominently in central Beijing yesterday as parliamentary delegates, some in military uniform, others in the costumes of “ethnic minorities”, most in blue suits, gathered for China’s annual National People’s Congress (NPC).

While the parliament is largely a rubberstamp legislature, where the 2,987 delegates enthusiastically approve Bills already decided by the leadership weeks ago, it does give an insight into the issues on the minds of the powers-that-be in the world’s most populous nation and its second-largest economy.

Xi Jinping, who was named head of the Communist Party and the military three months ago, will cement his rule when he assumes the title of president at the end of the 10-day session.

Military spending for the coming year is due to be released today, and will give an indication of how much influence Mr Xi now wields within the powerful army after three months in office.

Regional tensions

Regional tensions are rising over China’s myriad claims against its neighbours over territories in the region, so many will be watching to see how much more money the military gets this year. In previous years, it has been in double-digit per cent, and last year rose 11.2 per cent to €83 billion.

The government yesterday defended its booming military spending, saying hefty investments in the armed forces have contributed to global peace and stability, despite triggering fear among China’s neighbours.

There is also sure to be discussion of Mr Xi’s campaign to end graft, rein in the power of the state-owned enterprises and cut back on extravagance.

Among the burning social issues that have emerged are forthright calls for an end the country’s re-education-through-labour camps. While this has been flagged, the congress should give details about what to expect.

There are also calls to stop people registering multiple residence permits, or “hukou”, after a series of abuses have seen corrupt officials using fake permits to buy scores of properties.

Greying population

The one-child policy of population control will also be up for discussion.

There is a growing realisation in the upper echelons that the policy will ultimately have to be abandoned if China is to avoid a greying population, but there is little political will to do anything that drastic, and instead there are tweaks to allow urbanites have more than one child. One question many are asking is about what compensation there is for parents who lose their only child between the ages of 25-30, when it’s too late to have another.

The skies in Beijing have been markedly clear for the political meetings, as factories close for the duration of the session, but pollution has worked its way to the top of the agenda.

Pollution

In a possible indication the government is serious about combatting pollution, Pan Yue – a high-profile official with a strong record in taking on big state-owned interests over environmental issues – has been linked to the environment minister job when premier-in-waiting Li Keqiang forms his new cabinet at the congress.

Among the delegates at the advisory meeting yesterday was recycling billionaire Chen Guangbiao, who brought with him a can of the clean air that he has been selling to highlight the dangers of smog.

Other delegates have demanded that more information be made available about soil pollution after this data was called “a state secret” by environment authorities.

As every year at this time before the congress, the mothers of those who were killed during the June 1989 crackdown on the democracy movement centred around Tiananmen Square have written a letter to the NPC calling for an investigation and asking for an apology.

They say the new leadership cannot keep avoiding this issue and must work towards political reform and democracy.