China set to hail success, raise pressure on Hong Kong in annual Congress

By Javier García

Beijing, Mar 3 (efe-epa).- China is set to highlight the success of its governance model on the occasion of its annual National People’s Congress, which kicks off on Friday and will decide the country’s course for the next five years, with the possibility of fresh legislative reforms being launched to increase control on opposition activity in Hong Kong.

In the second congress of the Communist Party of China in the Covid-19 era, with strict prevention measure in place like last year, around 3,000 delegates are set to discuss the 14th five-year plan, which will guide the national politics and economy in the near future.

The meeting also coincides with the centenary of the establishment of the CPC in 1921, as the party completes 100 years in July, with President Xi Jinping announcing grand celebrations on the occasion.

During this year of special importance, Xi is expected to use the NPC to issue a message of strength and display both historic and recent “victories” for the country, including the successful containment of the pandemic, eradication of extreme poverty, ending the disturbances in Hong Kong and the investment agreement with the European Union.

However, he could also touch upon the major internal problems, such as the increasing income gap among the population, as well as external issues as uncertainty continues over the future China policy of the new United States administration led by Joe Biden.

Boosting innovation, the quest for technological self-sufficiency, focus on domestic consumption, protecting the country’s stability and a firmer foreign policy are the major topics expected to dominate the congress.

Ending China’s tech-related dependence on the US and other countries is vital for Beijing, as its future is closely linked to this aspect, with Washington’s sanctions on Chinese companies in the sector – such as Huawei – having caused major economic damage.

The latest five-year plan for the first time dedicates a special chapter to technology, under the so-called “dual circulation” strategy through which China aims to boost consumption and the domestic market to neutralize possible external challenges.

It also includes long-term objectives that could extend up to 2035, with the congress expected to explain the steps Beijing aims to take to fulfill its declared goal of reducing national carbon emissions – currently the highest in the world – to zero by 2060.

The plan aims to turn the Asian giant into a high-income country in 2025 and double its GDP by 2035, according to a draft prepared by the CPC central committee in November.

There are indications that the NPC is set to approve an electoral reform in Hong Kong which could further weaken the capability of dissidents to launch political action in the city, already very muted since the controversial national security law came into effect in 2020.

High officials from Beijing and the semi-autonomous city met over the weekend in Shenzhen to discuss the reform, including the head of China’s Hong Kong Affairs Office, Xia Baolong, who said that the principle of Hong Kongers ruling Hong Kong should be implemented by “patriots.”

The reforms could include the elimination of opposition lawmakers – who registered a landslide victory in last year’s district council elections in the city – from the election committee of Hong Kong, a 1,200-member body tasked with electing the chief executive.

Moreover, the complex system of electing deputies in the local parliament could be modified in a way that the strength of popular opposition politicians is reduced.

Xi had already warned last week that Hong Kong’s electoral and administrative systems needed a “fundamental” overhaul, to ensure that only “patriots” hold key positions in the legislative, executive and judicial bodies.

“The electoral reform is going to be very restrictive. It amounts to the opposition being expelled from institutional space and would probably carry retrospective effects. Beijing is choosing the western medicine – which means a rapid treatment – for Hong Kong and giving up the traditional,” Xulio Rios, analyst and director of the Chinese Policy Observatory, told EFE.

The NPC, which will be shorter this year due to the pandemic and end within a week, usually also announces a growth target for the year, although this was omitted in 2020 due to the pandemic and may be skipped this year too, despite analysts predicting a 8 percent growth after a Covid-induced slump during the last cycle.

However, targets for inflation, employment generation, fiscal deficit and defense budget growth – one of the most awaited data – are set to be announced, with the defense budget set to witness a single-digit rise despite being higher than 2020.

“It’s a moment when the party can display not just the political achievements of its entire historical trajectory but also the recent ones, and Xi would highlight that this reaffirms the competence of the party as well as his own, ahead of the CPC Congress next year,” said Rios.

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