China is preparing to organize a parliamentary meeting as leaders try to send a national unity message

Chinese President Xi Jinping (C) arrives for the opening session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on May 21, 2020.

The National People’s Congress (NPC) will offer Chinese leaders the opportunity to highlight their success in containing the virus and to highlight the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, while facing a growing international backlash on its initial crisis management.

The annual meetings will also reveal Beijing’s plans on how to revive an economy affected by the devastating pandemic, which led to the country’s first economic contraction after decades of continuous growth.

Like anything else upset by the pandemic, this year’s NPC meetings will not be the same as usual. Still cautious about a potential second wave of coronavirus infections, the Chinese government is not taking preventative measures lightly.

The congress will be cut off in one week, about half the normal duration. There will also be fewer press conferences, all held online via video conferencing.

Only a select group of journalists will be authorized to cover the opening and closing ceremonies of the Great Hall of the People – after passing the coronavirus tests. But even for them, public interviews will not be allowed.

The highly choreographed meetings of the rubber stamp parliament and its advisory body have been an important milestone in Beijing’s political performance for decades. Although the event is quieter this year, its attempt at a political message is no less clear: China, unlike most of the rest of the world, has returned to normal.

Declare victory over the coronavirus

With nearly 3,000 NPC delegates descending to Beijing from across the country and preparing to gather for days inside the Great Hall of the People, many countries around the world are still undergoing severe blockade measures.

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On Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported the highest number of Covid-19 cases in a 24-hour period, with nearly two thirds of all cases coming from the United States, Russia, Brazil and India. Five million people have been infected worldwide, including over 328,000 deaths.

In China, however, life is slowly returning to normal as the virus was largely contained in March. The NPC rally will be an opportunity for Beijing to remind citizens of that apparent victory and promote the narrative that the Communist Party – especially its leader Xi Jinping – saved the nation from public health calamity, dismissing criticism against its response. the initial outbreak in Wuhan, where the virus was first detected last December.

In late January and February, Chinese authorities faced increasing public anger at home for allegedly silent health workers who tried to sound the alarm about the virus and minimize the severity of the epidemic.

But the Chinese government quickly went on to silence the dissent and public anger eventually subsided when the epidemic became under control. Chinese state officials and media have since tried to use the seemingly successful containment of the virus to muster national pride, hailing the country’s political system as “the biggest advantage” for overcoming the epidemic.

A man wearing a face mask drives the tricycles to transport iron nets to Wuhan on May 11th.
“In the face of the sudden outbreak of the epidemic, the CCP’s central leadership has paid close attention … and has taken a number of decisive measures to prevent, control and treat (the disease),” Xi he said in a meeting earlier this month.

“(We) spent only more than a month to preliminarily curb the spread of the epidemic, about two months to limit the daily increase of local cases within the single figures and three months to obtain decisive results in the Wuhan defense battle and Hubei “This is not an easy result for a large nation like us with a population of 1.4 billion,” said Xi.

That message of success and unity will be amplified during NPC meetings, with the intensification of criticism from abroad. The clash between Beijing and Washington on coronavirus has led to tense relations a new low. Politicians in France, Australia and the United Kingdom also questioned the epidemic’s management of China. Faced with growing challenges abroad, Beijing will likely work to consolidate control and leadership at home, while seeking to restore its economy in the shadow of the pandemic.

Revive the economy

As Premier Li Keqiang delivers the central government’s employment report to NPC delegates on Friday morning, all eyes will be on the fact that he will announce a growth target for the Chinese economy this year.

The world’s second largest economy has suffered a major blow since the coronavirus outbreak, as blockade measures have shut down much of the country from late January to March. China’s gross domestic product decreased by 6.8% in the first quarter of this year – the worst drop since quarterly records began in 1992.
80 million Chinese may already be out of work. Another 9 million will soon be competing for work too

The Chinese Communist Party has pledged to double the size of the economy since 2010 by the end of 2020 – a target that could be difficult to achieve following the coronavirus pandemic, as growth had already slowed down due to a protracted trade war with the United States.

Justin Lin Yifu, Chinese economist and influential government adviser, estimates that China must achieve growth of at least 5.6% this year to achieve this goal.
2020 is also the deadline for the Communist Party eradicate poverty in China – an important political goal for Xi.

Li is also expected to announce this year’s unemployment rate target, which the Chinese government considers a key factor in maintaining social stability. As in other parts of the world, the pandemic has put many people out of work in China. The official government unemployment rate for March was 5.9%, which means that over 27 million people were out of work. However, some analysts predict that the real number will be 80 million, if migrant workers are included.

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Steven Jiang of CNN in Beijing contributed to the report.

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