Xi Jinping Takes Control: Annual Parliament to Enforce His Rule
On Sunday, China will commence its annual parliament, where it is set to undertake its most significant government reorganization in ten years. This move by Xi Jinping comes amidst various challenges, such as an uneven post-COVID economic recovery and plummeting U.S. relations, as he tightens control. Roughly 3,000 representatives will assemble at the Great Hall of the People, located west of Tiananmen Square, for the first National People’s Congress in the post-zero-COVID era.
While some safety measures, including testing and quarantine for journalists, remain in place, the rubber-stamp NPC will establish Xi’s new economic team after he cemented his third term and placed his allies in prominent positions during the Communist Party’s twice-a-decade congress last October. Reports from state media state that the NPC will also discuss Xi’s strategy to re-organize state and Communist Party entities comprehensively, which would entail more incorporation of State Council ministries into the party to promote public health and national security.
Sources familiar with the matter expect the government to establish a 2023 economic growth target ranging from 5% to 6% to contain unemployment, with measures focused on stimulating consumption and foreign investment, among other efforts. Nonetheless, analysts do not anticipate any significant reforms to be made. In 2020, China’s economy grew by only 3%, making it one of the country’s worst showings in 50 years. Loyalist Li Qiang, the former Shanghai party chief, is likely to become the new premier and will manage the world’s second-largest economy, with investors hoping that his close, relationship with Xi will lead to more business-friendly policies after a shift towards more statist policies.
The NPC is set to appoint new leaders to key economic and regulatory organizations, including the central bank, to replace the current generation of reform-oriented officials, such as retiring Premier Li Keqiang and Vice Premier Liu He. “The NPC will continue the decisions made at the 20th Party Congress and prioritize security,” according to Alfred Wu, an associate professor at the Lee Kwan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.
Xi faces numerous challenges as the NPC approaches, including a significant demographic shift that resulted in the first population decline since 1961, the first decrease in urban employment in six decades, and a reduction in per capita spending. Xi also confronts worsening relations with the United States, which is limiting China’s access to cutting-edge technologies, as well as a sluggish global economy. Despite these challenges, he is expected to secure a third term as president after eliminating constitutional term limits in 2018.
Li Qiang, a 63-year-old veteran of provincial-level positions who successfully managed last year’s two-month-long COVID lockdown in Shanghai, will be the first premier of the People’s Republic to have never served in the central government, which could result in a rocky start to his tenure. Ding Xuexiang, a former Xi aide who is set to become the top vice-premier, also lacks central-level management experience.
The NPC will begin with outgoing Premier Li delivering a 2023 work report, which is expected to focus on revitalizing an economy damaged by three years of COVID restrictions and a downturn in the property sector. “We will endeavor to promote growth and utilize policy tools to achieve this, primarily by investing in significant projects,” stated Xu Hongcai, deputy director of the economic policy commission at the China Association of Policy Science, a state-backed organization.