March 1, 2019 / 12:11 AM / in 20 days

Factbox: What to expect from China's annual meeting of parliament next week

(Reuters) - Around 3,000 delegates to the annual gathering of China’s largely rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress, will meet in Beijing on March 5 to discuss political and economic policy.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang addresses delegates during the opening session of the National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China March 5, 2018. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

Here is an overview of China’s top legislature and this year’s meeting, which will last around 10 days.

ISSUES:

Top of the agenda this year is passing a new foreign investment law to replace existing laws that regulate joint ventures and wholly foreign-owned enterprises, and is designed to ease foreign concerns about China’s investment environment.

The law has been fast-tracked for approval at the full session of parliament, and comes as China and the United States are working to resolve a bitter trade dispute which has seen them level tariffs on each other’s exports.

The law will ban forced technology transfer and illegal government “interference” in foreign business practices, according to a previously published draft.

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

China plans to set a lower economic growth target of 6.0-6.5 percent in 2019 compared with last year’s target of around 6.5 percent, policy sources have told Reuters, as Beijing gears up to cope with higher U.S. tariffs and weakening domestic demand.

The defense budget for the year is also unveiled on opening day, though in 2017 it was initially not released, prompting concern about transparency.

A slew of other figures are issued on the first day, such as the inflation target.

There will be a series of news conferences during the session, including by the central bank and commerce ministry, as well as the annual news conference by the government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi.

The meeting will end with the premier’s annual news conference.

FUNCTIONS:

The NPC meets yearly in March to pass major bills, approve the budget and endorse personnel nominations. Its Standing Committee meets regularly to approve other legislation.

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.

MEMBERSHIP:

Delegates 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 but not elected by Taiwan’s people.

VOTES:

Votes always follow the Communist Party’s wishes and generally 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 officials.

MEETINGS:

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.

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 has no legislative power.

Sources: Reuters, Chinese state media.

Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Kim Coghill

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