21 May 2020

All eyes on China's GDP target during Covid-hit congress

3:30 pm on 21 May 2020

About 3000 delegates to the annual gathering of China's largely rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress, are due to gather in Beijing on Saturday (NZ time) to discuss political and economic policy.

(FILES) This file photo taken on March 8, 2019 shows a general view of the second plenary session of the National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

National People's Congress delegates will hear the latest thinking on the economy which has been hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo: AFP

Below is an overview of China's top legislature and this year's meeting, which is widely expected to be shorter than the usual 10 days.

The issues

On opening day, Premier Li Keqiang typically announces key annual economic targets in a state-of-the-nation-style address.

This year, all eyes will be on the government's 2020 gross domestic product growth target - if there is one at all - after GDP contracted in the first quarter for the first time in decades due to the new coronavirus outbreak.

Li may also announce fresh measures to stimulate an economy hit by the worst public health crisis since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

The defence budget is expected to be unveiled on opening day too, and it will be seen as a gauge of the extent China may ratchet up its military capabilities this year.

During parliament, the NPC is also expected to pass China's first civil code, wide-ranging legislation that, among other things, will formalise property and personal rights as part of President Xi Jinping's plan to reform the legal system.

Amid the global coronavirus pandemic, lawmakers will also likely discuss measures to contain any potential flare-up in new cases and steps to prevent a second wave in the longer run.

(FILES) This file photo taken on March 15, 2019 shows Chinese President Xi Jinping arriving for the closing session of the National People's Congress (NPC) in  Beijing's Great Hall of the People. -

President Xi Jinping who is planning to reform the legal system is seen getting ready to address last year's congress. Photo: AFP

Functions of the congress

The NPC normally meets every March to pass major bills, approve the budget and endorse personnel nominations. Its standing committee meets regularly to approve other legislation.

The gathering this year was postponed due to the epidemic, the first time the NPC has been delayed since China adopted the March schedule in 1995.

The NPC is generally considered a rubber stamp for the ruling Communist Party's policies and decisions.


Delegates represent China's 31 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions, as well as Hong Kong, Macau and the military. There are also delegates for Chinese-claimed Taiwan, mostly made up of defectors and their descendants but not elected by Taiwan's people.


Votes always follow the Communist Party's wishes and generally pass by an overwhelming majority, but delegates have in the past departed from the party line to vent frustration over issues such as corruption and crime.

All citizens above the age of 18 are technically allowed to vote for delegates and be elected to the NPC, but most delegates are hand-picked by local officials.


Parliament meets in the Great Hall of the People to the west of Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing. The main auditorium can seat 10,000 people.

The number of delegates attending is expected to remain unchanged, with China well past the February peak of the coronavirus epidemic and measures to prevent any return of the virus to the Chinese capital in place.

A woman runs past the Great Hall of the People, the venue for the annual meeting of the National People's Congress, China's rubber-stamp legislature in Beijing on May 20, 2020. -

A woman runs past the Great Hall of the People, the venue for the annual meeting of the National People's Congress, in Beijing. Photo: AFP

Typically, there are news conferences during parliament, including a news conference by the government's top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, and the premier's annual press conference on the last day.

But the number of such conferences is expected to be reduced this year due to precautionary coronavirus measures.

The high-profile but largely ceremonial advisory body, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), meets in parallel with the NPC.

It is made up of business magnates, artists, monks, non-communists and other representatives of broader society, but has no legislative power.

See all RNZ coverage of Covid-19

- Reuters

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs