BEIJING – Incoming Chinese president Xi Jinping has made fighting corruption one of his priorities, so it is perhaps not surprising the National People’s Congress, which will complete the once-in-a-decade leadership transition, is a bit more low-key than usual.
The Great Hall of the People is hung with the usual bunting, red flags fly proudly all over the city, hostesses are still at hand to show delegates to their seats and the security spend has been considerable, complete with fire extinguishers in case a protester should try to self-immolate near the venue.
The speeches make their usual references to Marxist-Leninist Thought that sit uneasily with the capitalist maelstrom outside the gates of the legislature.
The China that President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao are handing over to their successors, Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, is much more well-off than when they took over 10 years ago.
However, the absence of reform in those 10 years means the new administration faces some complex issues, such as how to keep growth on track without overheating, and how to maintain the Communist Party’s grip on power by addressing issues such as corruption and economic inequality.
“Some of these problems have built up over time, while others have emerged in the course of economic and social development, and still others have been caused by inadequacies and weaknesses in our government work,” Mr Wen said in a 100-minute speech to the nearly 3,000 deputies in the Great Hall of the People, his last address before stepping down.
Mr Xi will be named president at some point towards the end of the 13-day NPC, having been named Communist Party chief and head of the military at a congress in November. European firms in China are hopeful that reform is on the new administration’s agenda.
“China’s new leadership needs to take advantage of this opportunity to implement the reforms proposed in the 12th Five-Year Plan,” said Davide Cucino, President of the European Chamber of Commerce in China. “Reform has stalled in recent years – this is not sustainable and carries high risks. China’s transition to an innovative, consumption-driven economy will not be easy, and bold decisions will have to be made to achieve those targets identified.”
During the gathering, Li Keqiang, who is currently number two in the party, will be named as premier, completing the picture that allows the new leadership of Mr Xi to get down to implementing their policies.
These policies are focused on improving the quality of life of China’s 1.3 billion people. That means improving the environment and repairing the badly underfunded social welfare system, and not just focusing on economic growth at all costs.
Outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao set a target of 7.5 per cent economic growth for the coming year, in line with last year and shy of the double-digit growth that China has racked up in the past decades.
It will inevitably come out higher – 2012 saw growth of 7.5 per cent, and this year it is expected to be even higher, above eight per cent possibly, but the political point is crucial.
The delegates in the legislature will politely, even enthusiastically, applaud speeches and then approve proposals that were drafted behind closed doors by the senior cadres in the Communist Party.