Two Sessions starter and main served, dessert to follow
By John Goodrich

As thousands of deputies strode along the red carpets of the Great Hall of the People on Tuesday, heading for lunch as the sun broke out in Beijing, their Two Sessions was just beginning.  

Ten days of discussion and deliberation follow for the National People's Congress, China's top legislature, and the talking has been under way for a couple of days at the top advisory body, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

Though there is still much to consume, for most overseas observers the starter and main course have already been served – and there have been few surprises so far.

Read more:

Who runs China?

Chinese economy needs confidence

The starter was the launch of the CPPCC session, the format of which was nearly exactly replicated by the opening of the NPC on Tuesday. A corridor – a press conference by another name – with delegates, followed by a work report, and then a corridor with ministers.

The interest in the two is somewhat different. For the NPC the road outside the Great Hall was empty and the auditorium packed. Cars flew by when the CPPCC opened and the upper levels were occupied by just a straggle of reporters.

That's not to say the CPPCC doesn't play an important role. CGTN's Robert Lawrence Kuhn, who loosely compares the function of the advisory body to that of lobbyists in the United States, argues that in the Internet age it has "real power to shape public opinion and to leverage public social media."

Wang Yang, chairman of the CPPCC National Committee, set out an agenda for the year ahead in familiar terms on Sunday, stressing the importance of "building a moderately prosperous society in all respects" by 2020 and confronting the "three critical battles" of risk, poverty and pollution.

Jackie Chan, March 5, 2019. /VCG Photo

Jackie Chan, March 5, 2019. /VCG Photo

In the wake of his speech, journalists buzzed around in the Great Hall, grabbing delegates for comment, running over – and tripping over – CGTN's 5G livestream connection. One attendee who knew how to stay out the way was Jackie Chan, who neatly sidestepped wires and camera shot alike as he skipped by. 

The new technology is a condiment on the Two Sessions menu, with CGTN broadcasting in 5G for the very first time – a taste of the tech that will start to create big changes to millions of lives over the next 18 months.   

5G equipment in the Great Hall of the People, Beijing, March 3, 2019. /VCG Photo

5G equipment in the Great Hall of the People, Beijing, March 3, 2019. /VCG Photo

The main course was delivered by Premier Li Keqiang on Tuesday, with his work report at the opening of the NPC session. A lower GDP growth target, smaller increase in the defense budget, fresh tax cuts and stark warnings about the economic situation made headlines around the world.

The message was stability and realism, positivity but caution.

The lower growth target of 6 to 6.5 percent, the first time a band has been used since 2016, surprised few. Global growth is facing downward trends, so the forecast that the economy will grow slightly less quickly than the 6.6 percent achieved in 2018 was not unexpected.

It also gives more room to guard against the various risks outlined by Li, who highlighted trade frictions with the U.S. as having had an especially "adverse effect on the production and business operations of some companies and on market expectations."   

More on 2019 work report

... in highlights

... in graphics

... in keywords

The premier warned that China "must be fully prepared for a tough struggle," acknowledging both domestic and international pressures, and announced a "proactive fiscal policy with greater intensity."

Tax cuts were the centerpiece, with reductions worth two trillion yuan (298 billion U.S. dollars) for enterprises announced including reductions in VAT. 

A renewed effort to boost small companies and a promise to increase market access for foreign firms also stood out, as did a 0.2 point increase – to 2.8 percent – in the central government deficit target.

Li also emphasized that a large stimulus was not on the agenda. "Facing new circumstances and developments, we were firm in choosing not to adopt a deluge of strong stimulus policies."

Stable growth and employment were stressed again when the National Development and Reform Commission held its press conference on Wednesday.

Journalists read the 2019 government work report in the Great Hall of the People, Beijing, March 5, 2019. /VCG Photo

Journalists read the 2019 government work report in the Great Hall of the People, Beijing, March 5, 2019. /VCG Photo

There are still 10 days to go, and some appealing options are on the menu for overseas consumers.

The ministerial press conferences – particularly from the foreign and commerce ministries – will be closely watched side dishes.

And the foreign investment law, due to be deliberated and voted on over the next few days, is a dessert that has caught the eye of many as China looks to further open up its markets. 

1km