HK delegates relieved as 'two sessions' likely to be postponed

February 19, 2020 18:55
The National People's Congress Standing Committee will call a meeting next Monday and deliberate on a draft decision to postpone the annual NPC session as scheduled. Photo: Xinhua

As the novel coronavirus epidemic continues to ravage mainland China and spread in other parts of the world, with the death toll rising above 2,000 as of Wednesday morning, there were grave concerns among our city’s deputies to the National People’s Congress (NPC) and members of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) about whether the annual “two sessions” would go ahead in early March as scheduled.

Then on Monday, they were finally put out of their misery as news came in that the NPC Standing Committee is going to call a meeting next Monday and deliberate on a draft decision to postpone the annual NPC session.

Many believe there is a high chance that the proposal will pass.

Sources have revealed that over the past month, many Hong Kong NPC and CPPCC delegates were deeply apprehensive about the prospect of having to attend the two sessions on the orders of Beijing’s Liaison Office, as the capital city itself is currently plagued by the Wuhan pneumonia outbreak.

An NPC deputy pointed out that the Liaison Office was working to book flight tickets to Beijing for them as of last week.

And some CPPCC delegates who were worried about catching the virus during their visit to the capital were desperately trying to figure out some convincing excuses to skip the meetings, the NPC deputy added.

Yet much to their relief, things took a dramatic turn on Monday, and now they no longer have to worry about going to Beijing.

It is understood that if Beijing had insisted on pressing ahead with the “two sessions” on March 3 and 5 as scheduled, a lot of the more aged CPPCC delegates would plan to apply for a leave of absence out of health concerns.

In particular, many CPPCC delegates who are running big businesses in Hong Kong would rather be absent from the “two sessions” because the last thing they want is to have to self-quarantine at home for 14 days after they return from Beijing.

Luckily, as it is very likely for the central authorities to announce the postponement of the “two sessions”, their worries have lifted.

On the other hand, some local NPC and CPPCC delegates complained that the Liaison Office hadn’t given them any “forewarning” about the possible postponement of the two sessions.

Last week, after reporters importuned them for comments about rumors of the postponement, some NPC deputies sought answers from the Liaison Office, but they got no clear answer or even hint.

And that explains why many members of the pro-Beijing bloc later told media that they hadn’t heard any information about the postponement of the NPC and the CPPCC meetings, and asserted that the two sessions would go ahead in early March as scheduled.

Unfortunately, they have been proven wrong in less than a week.

Now that there is little doubt the two sessions will be deferred, with no decision having been made on the new schedule, a local CPPCC member has proposed an alternative option: NPC and CPPCC delegates from across the mainland as well as Hong Kong and Macau can hold separate meetings in their respective locations instead of gathering in Beijing.

Some have even suggested that actual meetings be replaced by video conferencing in the days ahead.

However, there has been talk that mainland authorities find the idea of holding video conferencing rather infeasible, not least because of the sheer number of NPC and CPPCC delegates.

Nonetheless, according to another CPPCC delegate, video conferencing is a very workable option, given the fact that 5G technology has already come of age in the mainland.

The problem, however, is that Beijing may not approve the idea because once it has set a precedent, it may find it not so easy anymore to summon the “big masters” in Hong Kong and other parts of the mainland to go to the capital city to attend physical meetings the next time around.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb 18

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.