Delegates from across China meet to 'hold high the banner of socialism'

Want to succeed as a Chinese Communist Party official? Here are a few tips:

“Build understanding of the Three Stricts and Three Honests.”

“Build a moderately prosperous society in all respects.”

“Hold high the banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics."

These were among the takeaways from a lengthy, rhetoric-laden speech by China’s Premier Li Keqiang on Saturday morning at the opening of the National People’s Congress, or NPC, an annual meeting of the country's top legislature.

As Li read his 36-page “work report,” nearly 3,000 delegates from across the country sat stone-faced in the main auditorium of the Great Hall of the People, a massive granite edifice flanking Tiananmen Square. They presented an image of solemn unity, punctuating his speech with the rustling of turning pages and rounds of light applause.

State broadcaster CCTV called the NPC — along with the concurrent Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a political advisory body — “crucial venues where political and economic developments are reviewed and discussed and key policies adopted.”

Although the meetings are an act of political theater — delegates are expected to rubber-stamp the preordained decisions of top-ranking officials — the government’s myriad targets and announcements provide some insight into its most pressing concerns. The country is facing its slowest economic growth in more than two decades; its healthcare and education systems are notoriously sclerotic and under-resourced; and its environment has been devastated by years of a growth-at-all-costs development strategy.

“There are many problems in medical care, education, elderly care, food and medicine safety, income distribution and urban management that are of concern to the people,” Li said, according to an official English-language copy of the report. “Some regions are frequently hit by severe smog.”

Li also acknowledged that Beijing is attempting to rein in industrial overcapacity, which has raised the specter of widespread layoffs, and that “notable imbalances exist between government revenue and expenditures,” a nod to mountains of local government debt that have raised fears of a wave of defaults and ultimately an economic hard landing.

He announced a growth target of between 6.5% and 7% for 2016 — a more conservative goal than last year’s “about 7%” — and presented a list of other targets for the next five years, including reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 18%, expanding high-speed railway networks to link up 80% of “big cities” and create more than 50 million new urban jobs.

“Thanks to years of rapid development, China has laid a solid material foundation, and its economy is hugely resilient and has enormous potential and ample room for growth,” he said.

The meeting gives both Chinese and local journalists a rare chance to come face to face with powerful figures in government, business and the military.

Few of them, however, stray far from the script.

“This year, we feel that the Chinese economy is going through a difficult period, but it still has many bright spots and the government has been diligently working to resolve its issues,” said delegate Du Mei, the deputy secretary of the Inner Mongolia region’s Television Artists’ Assn.

On Saturday, Li made no mention of recent trends in China that have captured the world’s attention, including tightening government control of the Internet and media, a massive stock market rout and Beijing’s controversial territorial claims in the South China Sea. (“We will encourage the development of a healthy online culture,” Li said, without going into details.)

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Instead, he focused on party unity and economic growth.

“Let us rally closer around the [Communist Party of China] Central Committee headed by General Secretary Xi Jinping,” he said, “and, working together and remaining of one mind, strive to fulfill this year’s economic and social development tasks and targets.”


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