(Reuters) - Around 3,000 delegates to the annual meeting of China’s largely rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress, will meet in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People on March 5 for a session that will last around 10 days.
Here is an overview of China’s top legislature and this year’s meeting:
Top of the agenda this year are reforms and other steps to reduce the world’s second-largest economy’s heavy reliance on credit to contain debt and housing risks.
Exact details of what will be discussed or announced, including economic growth targets and the budget, are kept under wraps ahead of the session. However, government sources, state media and Chinese academics say the following items are likely to be on the agenda for discussion, even if no firm decisions are reached:
On the opening day, Premier Li Keqiang will announce key economic targets in a state-of-the-nation style address. The annual growth target is expected to be lowered to around 6.5 percent from last year’s 6.5-7 percent.
The economy expanded 6.7 percent in 2016.
Keeping economic growth on track in the face of deleveraging efforts, lay-offs caused by “supply-side” reforms, and the threat from protectionist policies from the United States will also be high on the agenda.
Top Chinese leaders have stressed economic stability ahead of the once-every-five-years Communist Party congress, which is expected to be in the autumn.
The defense budget for the year also gets unveiled on the opening day. It is expected to log another impressive rise, despite the slowing economy.
The Chinese territory of Hong Kong, which has seen continued demands from pro-democracy advocates for full suffrage, and self-ruled Taiwan, which elected an independence-leaning president last year, will probably be discussed, too.
The meeting will end with Li’s annual news conference.
This is not China’s biggest political event of 2017, though. Much more important is the autumn party congress, where President Xi Jinping will unveil a new generation of senior leaders. Parliament is likely to see a lot of behind-the-scenes jockeying for those positions.
The NPC meets annually in March to pass major bills, approve the budget and endorse personnel nominations.
The NPC is generally considered a rubber stamp for the ruling Communist Party’s policies and decisions, though debate on certain issues, such as pollution, can be lively.
The chairman is Zhang Dejiang, a former vice-premier and the third-most senior person in the party after President Xi Jinping and Premier Li.
The nearly 3,000 delegates attending the session represent China’s 31 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions, as well as Hong Kong, Macau and the military. There are also delegates for self-ruled Taiwan, mostly made up of defectors and their descendants. They serve five-year terms.
Votes almost always follow the Communist Party’s wishes and pass by an overwhelming majority, but delegates have in the past strayed from the party line to show frustration over issues such as corruption and crime.
All citizens over 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-level officials.
Parliament meets in the Great Hall of the People to the west of Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing. Built in less than a year in 1959 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic, the main auditorium can seat 10,000 people.
Parliament’s largely ceremonial advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, meets in parallel with the NPC. It is made up of business magnates, artists, monks, non-communists and other representatives of broader society, but it has no legislative power.
Sources: Reuters, Chinese state media.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Kevin Yao; Editing by Will Waterman