Doubts hang over the holding of China's twin sessions in March

February 06, 2020 18:00
The coronavirus outbreak  has cast doubts on whether the annual sessions of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference will take place in Beijing in March as scheduled. Photo: CNSA

The coronavirus outbreak in China has cast doubts on whether the annual sessions of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) will take place in Beijing in March as scheduled.

At least eight provinces, including Yunnan, Shaanxi and Shandong, have announced the postponement of their provincial NPC and CPPCC meetings amid mounting concerns over the health crisis.

In Beijing, central authorities are considering delaying the annual meeting of the NPC, the country's top legislative body, Reuters reported on Thursday, citing five people familiar with the matter.

“The focus remains on taking steps forward towards meeting on schedule, but we are discussing a range of options as the [coronavirus] situation doesn’t look likely to be contained by March,” a senior government official told the news agency, declining to be identified given the sensitivity of the matter.

“A delay is one of those options,” the official said. “It should come as no surprise given that we are in a very difficult time.”

China’s State Council Information Office and the NPC media center did not immediately respond to requests for comment, according to the Reuters report.

The Chinese officialdom has not made any announcement on the exact schedule for the so-called Two Sessions, but some of Hong Kong's delegates to the meetings said the odds are growing that they will be postponed.

Some Hong Kong delegates to the CPPCC, the country's top political advisory body, have asked relevant central government branches about it, only to be told that there isn’t any official news on the matter at the moment.

A local CPPCC delegate said if the pneumonia epidemic continues to worsen in the coming days, some of the more aged CPPCC delegates and NPC deputies might apply for a leave of absence out of health concerns.

Senior citizens are usually more vulnerable to health issues and, as such, higher authorities are likely to understand, the CPPCC delegate said.

While quite a number of local NPC and CPPCC delegates said they hadn’t heard that Beijing was planning to defer the two sessions, some of them reckoned that the chances of a postponement currently stood at 30 percent, and growing.

They explained that as millions of migrant workers from the countryside return to their jobs in the big cities after the Spring Festival holiday, the chances of a second wave of the novel coronavirus outbreak are very high. Beijing, like other major cities, is likely to be at the receiving end.

Another NPC deputy noted that as the fight against the outbreak is now at a decisive stage, the entire country is likely to focus all of its resources on combating the disease.

The main concern is that there would be a significant risk of infections among the thousands of NPC and CPPCC delegates from across the nation if they all gather in Beijing to take part in the two sessions as scheduled, the NPC deputy said.

Central authorities are likely to devise special measures on this matter and give priority to the health of its citizens, the deputy added.

Another seasoned CPPCC delegate has suggested otherwise, noting that it is still premature at this stage for Beijing to announce the postponement of the two sessions, as they are still about one month away, which means there are a lot of variables over how the epidemic that originated from the central city of Wuhan may play out.

Moreover, considering that the two sessions are big events watched not only in China but around the world, deferring them may take a toll on the nation's international image and may be seen as a reflection of the Chinese leadership's inability to contain the epidemic.

While a final decision on the matter remains to be seen, postponing the two sessions may not be a bad thing for some of our pro-establishment lawmakers.

That's because many of them are also NPC deputies or CPPCC delegates, and as such, postponing the twin sessions means they don't have to travel to Beijing anytime soon.

It is understandable if they would rather stay in Hong Kong than risk their health by going to the mainland where the coronavirus outbreak is fast spreading. 

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 31

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.