China’s National People’s Congress highlights Xi’s dominant position and diminishing profile of collective leadership around him

The focus was on ‘new productive forces’, a new slogan for what amounts to a dramatic reshaping of the Chinese economy

The sun was shining on Tiananmen Square on Monday afternoon, and inside the Great Hall of the People the atmosphere was almost festive as a military band struck up the Welcome March. Xi Jinping and the rest of the leadership clapped along as they took their seats onstage against a backdrop of red and gold.

The closing ceremony of the Two Sessions, week-long parallel meetings of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, was a brisk affair. Only 32 minutes after the platform party walked onstage, they were off again.

The main business for the almost 3,000 NPC delegates was a succession of votes, all of which passed easily with the most controversial – a measure involving the supreme court – opposed by just 44 of those present. In previous years the premier would meet the press after the session but it was announced at the start of the meeting that Li Qiang would not give a press conference this year – or next year or the year after.

The choreography of the meetings highlighted Xi’s dominant position and the diminishing profile of what remains of a collective leadership around him. But if the message was carefully controlled, it was clear in its signal about a shift in emphasis and even in the direction of policy.


There were few specifics about how Beijing plans to revive economic growth in the short-term but these are likely to emerge from the Third Plenary, a policymaking meeting expected before the summer. The focus instead was on “new productive forces”, a new slogan for what amounts to a dramatic reshaping of the Chinese economy.

Xi’s ambition is to replace the old economic growth model, which was based on housing, infrastructure construction and traditional manufacturing with one based on advanced manufacturing and sectors such as life sciences and artificial intelligence. Industrial policy has already helped China into a leading position in manufacturing electric vehicles, battery cells and solar panels, and Xi plans to direct the resources of the state towards nurturing his “new productive forces”.

There was less emphasis this year on security, which has been the administration’s preoccupation in recent years, and there was little geopolitical sabre-rattling. The improved relationship with Washington was reflected in Joe Biden’s statement in last week’s State of the Union address that “we want competition with China but not conflict”.

Beijing’s response went further, stating that China has always believed that the relationship should not be zero-sum and adding that “we are opposed to defining the entire China-Us relations by competition”.