China's top legislative body begins its annual meetings Wednesday in Beijing, where the promotion of a broad and ambitious reform agenda launched by President Xi Jinping late last year, will be a top priority. The meeting will mark one year since Xi became China’s top leader and comes amid a rapidly expanding corruption crackdown as the pace of the world’s second largest economy slows.
China’s National People’s Congress is the world’s largest parliament with some 3,000 delegates.
At the opening ceremony Wednesday, Premier Li Keqiang will deliver a speech called the government work report - a lengthy address that is typically packed not only with Communist Party slogans, but clues regarding the country’s policy direction.
Li will also announce the government’s annual target for economic growth, which is widely expected to remain at 7.5 percent.
However, with China’s economy continuing to slow and growing concerns about massive local debt, some say China’s leaders could lower it to seven percent.
China’s economy has slowed dramatically in recent years from double-digit growth. The public has also become more vocal about environmental concerns and the country’s policy of growth at any cost.
Over the next eight and half days delegates at the meeting will be discussing some 68 bills, 11 of them focusing on the environment. Skies were clear Tuesday, but just recently Beijing’s air pollution was hovering around severe levels for days.
National People’s Congress spokeswoman Fu Ying says environmental legislation will be a top issue during this year’s meetings.
Fu Ying said the problem of smog has become a symbolic and difficult issue in many cities in China and increasingly more are being affected. But it is not just air pollution, she says. The problem of water and soil pollution is even more serious.
Last fall, China’s president Xi Jinping unveiled a package of reforms aimed at overhauling the economy and promoting more competition between private enterprises and state-owned monopolies, which dominate China's economy. The reforms also seek to promote rule of law and abolish long-standing policies that hinder the equal distribution of wealth in the country of 1.35 billion people.
Fu Ying said it is the NPC's role to provide a legal backbone to massive reform project, Xi has initiated.
She said that when it comes to major reforms of public concern, delegates should draft, revise or abolish laws as needed to ensure that major reforms are carried out in accordance with the law.
Huang Jing, professor of public policy at the National University of Singapore, said for now, it is up to China's parliament to approve the reform plan. “This could be especially interesting and even more difficult than the previous years because the reforms policies cut deep into the current political and economic structure, which means there will be a massive re-distribution of power, privilege and interests,” Huang stated.
President Xi’s reforms deliberately aim to break monopolies of what Huang calls “the iron triangle:" state owned enterprises, the financial sector and local governments.
Xi has also taken steps, analysts say, to centralize his power. The president now heads three special committees: one on economic reform, another on security and a third focusing on the internet.
China’s president has also been aggressively promoting a crackdown on corruption in the country, which analysts say can also help remove obstacles to reform.