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China Concludes Annual Parliamentary Meetings as Xi Consolidates Power

Chinese officials and delegates attend the closing session of the National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, March 11, 2024.
Chinese officials and delegates attend the closing session of the National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, March 11, 2024.

China concluded its week-long annual parliamentary meetings in Beijing Monday, passing amendments that will further consolidate Chinese President Xi Jinping’s power and vowing to adopt several new pieces of legislation that aim to safeguard China’s sovereignty and security interests.

China’s rubber-stamp parliament passed revisions to the Organic Law of the State Council on Monday, which include clauses stipulating that the council shall uphold the leadership of the ruling Chinese Communist Party and safeguard the centralized leadership of the Communist Party’s Central Committee led by Xi.

“Under the strong leadership of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee with comrade Xi Jinping at its core, we must adhere to Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era as our guide and unswervingly push forward the Chinese-style modernization,” Zhao Leji, the chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, said at the closing ceremony of the week-long meeting.

The amendments come after the Chinese Communist Party announced an abrupt cancellation of Premier Li Qiang’s annual press conference at the end of the week-long parliamentary meetings.

Some analysts told VOA that the latest amendments and Beijing’s decision to cancel the premier’s press conference, which had been part of the annual parliamentary meeting “Two Sessions” for more than three decades, are part of the Chinese leadership’s effort to redefine the state council’s role.

“As Xi tries to strengthen his power, the state council has been downgraded to an organization focusing on implementing policies,” Liu Dongshu, an expert on Chinese politics at the City University of Hong Kong, told VOA by phone.

He said the development would make the state council less influential in the Communist Party’s decision-making process and serve as a “big step for Xi” to consolidate his power. “In the past, the premier, who is the head of the state council, was seen as another big political figure in China, but now, it will no longer be the case,” Liu said.

Since most decision-making power is now concentrated in Xi under the newly adjusted political structure, some experts say this could affect the Chinese leadership’s decision-making efficiency.

[The Communist Party’s] “decision-making could become slower because everything needs to pass through Xi, but I suppose policy implementation might become faster since once an order gets into the hands of someone at the state council, they don’t have to think about it other than how to implement the order,” Ian Chong, a political scientist at the National University of Singapore, told VOA by phone.

As China faces persistent economic headwinds, Liu in Hong Kong said Beijing’s attempt to consolidate Xi’s power may hurt the quality of its policies and be counterproductive to its efforts to boost foreign investors’ confidence in the Chinese economy.

“I can’t imagine a very robust discussion about policymaking [taking place within the Communist Party since] Xi has such a dominant power,” he told VOA, adding that this development may reduce foreign investors’ confidence in China. “People will feel like China becomes more untransparent,” Liu said.

Doubling down on national security

In addition to consolidating Xi’s power by adjusting the role of the state council, China’s rubber-stamp parliament also vowed to adopt several security-related laws in 2024, which follows the trend in recent years.

China’s top lawmaker Zhao Leji said last Friday that Beijing would enact “an emergency management law and an energy law” while revising “the National Defense Education Law and Cybersecurity Law.”

The announcement comes after Beijing adopted revisions to the Law on Guarding State Secrets last month, which broadened the scope of information deemed as “work secrets.” Last year, China also revised the anti-espionage law, which gives Chinese authorities more power to punish what it views as threats to national security.

Some academics say the plan to adopt more security-related legislation follows Beijing’s efforts to expand the scope of national security since Xi Jinping came to power more than a decade ago, and it reflects lawmakers attempts to cope with the rising economic and social challenges.

“Very soon after Xi became general secretary, he pushed the idea of “overall national security,” [which means that] national security would encompass a full gamut of issues, from politics to social and economic affairs,” Dali Yang, an expert on Chinese politics at the University of Chicago, told VOA in a video interview.

He said the Chinese government has become very “security conscious” due to the economic headwinds and social challenges. “This past year, the Communist Party leadership decided to introduce a society work department into the Party’s Central Committee, [which reflects the government’s] increasing effort to be conscious of the challenges facing China’s society and economy,” Yang added.

Chong in Singapore said the Chinese government’s plan to double down on national security may have negative consequences for China’s sluggish economy and the looming demographic crisis. “The thing to remember is that securitization is not cost-free,” he told VOA.

“Someone must pay for it, and right now, it seems that the heavy securitization is putting a drain on the Chinese economy and innovation while discouraging investors,” Chong said, adding that the government’s growing emphasis on national security may also deter Chinese citizens from getting married or having children.

Since the wide range of challenges facing China will likely persist, Chong said it’s important to observe how the tension between the economy and Beijing’s emphasis on security plays out.

“Adjustment has to come from one direction or another if he [Xi] wants to achieve some of his plans because there is a risk that he could be stuck in a situation where he doesn’t fully realize either plan,” he told VOA.