Global pandemic and 'unprecedented challenges' dictate topics at 'two sessions'
by Lu Haitao

The National People's Assembly and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference will face challenges related to coexistence with the virus, the economy, unemployment, domestic and foreign criticism. The "two sessions" open on May 21 and 22, almost two months late. China declares it has defeated the virus, but Jilin is in quarantine and the population of Wuhan is being tested. Xi's power deprived of "legitimacy".

Beijing (AsiaNews) - Before the end of this week, the annual sessions of the legislature, the National People's Assembly (NPA) and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) open in Beijing. They are called the "lianghui" ("the two sessions") and are considered official rhetoric ceremonies without any real power, given that they endorse everything that the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party has already decided.

The NPA will open its doors on May 22; the CPCPC a day earlier. Usually the two sessions are held in early March, but this year due to the pandemic, they were delayed for two months. The delay is a sign that the country is still struggling with prevention and control of the spread of the virus.

The coronavirus pandemic that started in Wuhan (Hubei) continues to spread around the world and is crippling the global economy. The Chinese authorities on the one hand have declared victory over Covid-19, but on the other are very cautious about the potential challenges posed by a recovery of the epidemic and its economic and political consequences.

The "two sessions" will be held under strict quarantine and their duration has been shortened: from two to one week. The traditional press conference, as well as the interviews will be held online.

As expected, the salient themes of the sessions will be, in addition to the pandemic, the multiple problems connected to it: economic growth, unemployment, internal and foreign criticism, the distrust of the international community after the silences at the beginning of the epidemic, the breakdown of economic relations with the US, as Donald Trump has threatened.

State media say that the companies have resumed production and that the economy is recovering from the impact of the coronavirus. Authorities have admitted that GDP fell significantly in the first quarter, but deny that there is massive unemployment. Yet export-oriented industries, especially manufacturing, are faced with an unexpected problem: orders from abroad have collapsed due to low demand from the rest of the world. Workers from Foxconn in Shenzhen, for example, say they have been ordered to take a four-month long vacation, starting in early May.

At least 8 million graduates are waiting for a job they can't find. Service industries and small and medium-sized businesses are struggling to support the burden of taxes, rents and labor. Here and there, in several cities in China, there are sporadic protests from small business owners demanding the cancellation of rents.

The government work report will be submitted to the congress and GDP growth in the report is the focus of the observers. Since China’s National Bureau of Statistics announced negative growth of 6.8% during the first quarter in April, the decision body Politburo of Communist Party has not mentioned “fulfilling the social and economical growth objective for the whole year”. Ma Jun (马骏), member of Fiscal Policy Committee of China’s Central Bank suggests not to set the goal of GDP growth this year.

According to official media Xinhua, the draft of the government work report has been discussed within Politburo. The report admitted “unprecedented challenges” and “epidemic prevention routine” in the future. Actually, the epidemic is rebounding: northeast city Jilin has been locked down. In the epicenter Wuhan, about 11 million people are undergoing COVID-19 test.

Authorities also are muffling different voices. Writer Fang Fang who spoke out for the truth of the epidemic, and her supporters are targeted by online patriotic sentiments. Even a lady who stroke gong on balcony to ask for help in early February, the story sparked in Chinese cyber sphere, attacked Fang Fang for sharing the story that “used her as weapon”, and “with ulterior motives”. Citizen journalist and lawyer Zhang Zhan who reported in Wuhan is arrested by police and she is detained in Shanghai. Other two citizen journalists Fang Bin and Chen Qiushi are still missing.

Reuters reveals that a report submitted to China’s Ministry of State Security warns that China faces backlash over virus similar to the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989. China’s official media and diplomats are exhibiting their sharp power: spreading misinformation and rejecting independent investigation over the virus, meanwhile Chinese authorities is denying concealing the information during the early stage and portraying China as the “firefighter” for the world now.

President Xi Jinping removed his major obstacles for his life-long term in 2018. The congress amended the constitution and Xi’s power reached the peak at that time. But Xi’s troubles followed incessantly. The trade war broke out two years ago. The wave of protests in Hong Kong is still going on. The virus was quickly spreading just after China and US signed the first phase trade deal in January. The designated goals of getting rid of poverty and building an all-round moderately prosperous society are due to accomplish in 2020. Undoubted, Xi wants to serve the third term however he lacks “legitimacy” without achievements. Sluggish domestic market, export and fiscal income should be the major concerns. The increase in the budget of the Armed Forces - always growing – is also of note, in an emphasis on maintain internal stability, which has become higher than that of the army. It must be said that even in the midst of the epidemic, China has not stopped threatening Taiwan with a possible invasion.