China sets annual congress date, signaling COVID-19 containment confidence

Domestic News
Screenshot from Youtube: Rare cell phone video of Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 speaking off the cuff (in Chinese) — and very confidently — during his recent visit to Shaanxi Province

Today, Beijing announced that it would hold its annual National People’s Congress (NPC) session on May 22, about two and a half months delayed from the initial date of March 5. (Xinhua: English; Chinese). The National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), which serves an advisory role, will meet starting on May 21, Xinhua also reported (in Chinese).

What does this mean? The setting of a date for the “Two Sessions,” as the meetings of the NPC and CPPCC are known, is the clearest signal yet that China’s leaders are confident they have contained COVID-19.

  • This is especially true in the capital itself, where officials said there have been “no new confirmed local or imported COVID-19 cases for 13 consecutive days,” so the city is lowering its emergency response level starting on April 30, Xinhua reports.
  • Travelers from most other parts of China — not including “high- and medium-risk areas and Hubei, the province hardest hit by the virus” — to the capital will no longer have to undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine on arrival.
  • Tianjin and Hebei, the largest city and province around Beijing, are also easing their emergency response levels starting April 30, per Reuters.

But China is not out of the woods yet: The top story on Xinhua’s Chinese website today is about a Politburo Standing Committee chaired by Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 that is almost wholly concerned with COVID-19 and warning of the vigilance still needed to fight it.

“While the agenda for the Two Sessions has not been announced, at least two new pieces of legislation — a civil code and biosecurity law — are expected to be presented to lawmakers for review or even a vote,” the SCMP reports. And of course, the NPC is “expected to lay out policies to spur economic growth.”

  • “Job losses and pay cuts have left [China’s] people reluctant to spend,” the New York Times reports, and a “number of economists have called on China to do more to help consumers.”
  • Around 25 cities and provinces are already trying to stimulate consumption on their own, Sixth Tone reports, using electronic vouchers for tourism, entertainment, and food.
  • But “education authorities in at least 15 cities have issued notices asking — and in some cases ordering — staff and students to opt for tours in and around their current locations,” rather than traveling far for the upcoming Labor Day holiday on May 1, per Sixth Tone.

“This year’s annual sessions could be the shortest in decades due to COVID-19 concerns,” sources told Reuters. Usually, the Two Sessions involve more than 5,000 delegates from across China meeting in Beijing for more than 10 days.

Two new ministerial appointments were also announced (in Chinese) today: Táng Yījūn 唐一军 as the new justice minister, and Huáng Rùnqiū 黄润秋 as the new minister of ecology and environment. The SCMP has more on their backgrounds: Tang was formerly the governor of Liaoning Province and has served in senior positions in Zhejiang Province, where Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 has strong ties, while Huang is a career geologist and member of the Jiusan Society, one of seven political parties other than the Communist Party that is allowed to exist to give China the appearance of a multi-party state.