China Mulls Canceling Thousands-Strong Annual Lawmaking Session over Coronavirus

Deputies of the National People's Congress (NPC) listen to President of the Supreme People's Court Zhou Qiang's speech on the work of the Supreme People's Court during the third plenary meeting of the NPC at The Great Hall Of The People on March 12, 2019 in Beijing, China. (Photo by …
Andrea Verdelli/Getty Images

China’s year-round legislature will meet next week to discuss postponing the annual session convening every lawmaker in the “National People’s Congress” (NPC), a body that typically approves laws already decided by senior Communist Party officials.

Members of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a large committee of prominent Chinese celebrities and businesspeople that offers advice to the NPC, are also considering delaying their meeting, scheduled for March. Rescheduling the meeting would reveal significant fears amid high-level Communist Party officials that the ongoing coronavirus outbreak in the country will take more than a month to control. In January, state propaganda outlets claimed that evidence suggested the outbreak was already waning.

The “two sessions” – the Communist Party’s largest political gathering and a major event Beijing uses to deceive the world into thinking of it as a democracy – normally convene thousands of people, making it the kind of large assembly that poses a significant public health threat.

The Communist Party alerted the world to its discovery of a never-before-seen form of coronavirus on January 20, originating in the central Chinese metropolis of Wuhan. It has since infected over 70,000 people on four continents and killed over 1,000. The outbreak was likely made worse by communist officials hiding its existence between mid-December, when locals first reported becoming aware of a disease spreading, to the date in which the World Health Organization (WHO) spread China’s warning that the virus had been identified. During those days, officials in Wuhan allowed several large public gatherings, including a banquet feeding 130,000 people, mostly seniors.

Xinhua, a Chinese government news agency, reported on Monday that the Standing Committee – the part of the legislature that convenes year-round, as opposed to the nearly 3,000 people that make up the entire NPC – will meet “in late February” to discuss changing the dates of the currently scheduled full session.

According to the report, NPC officials are considering canceling the event not because a delegate may spread coronavirus among Communist Party officials, but because many of the delegates invited also hold positions in local government and their absence may delay the government’s response in affected communities. About a third of NPC members also hold local positions.

“Many of the nearly 3,000 NPC deputies, including leading officials at the municipal, provincial levels and other fields, are fighting at the frontlines of the epidemic battle,” Xinhua noted. “After careful evaluation, the Council of Chairpersons decided that it is necessary to postpone the annual legislative session to allow efforts to be concentrated on containing the epidemic. This is in line with putting people’s lives and health as the top priority.”

Only the Standing Committee, however, can make the decision to postpone the meeting, necessitating yet another meeting to postpone the meeting.

The Global Times, China’s more belligerent English-language propaganda outlet, published an article Monday predicting that any delay in holding the “two sessions” would only push them later into March, apparently responding to concerns that the delay indicates Beijing has little faith in Party members to swiftly contain the virus.

“The proposal to delay indicates that the central government puts epidemic prevention and control work as its top priority, showing its highly responsible stance not only to the Chinese people but also to the work,” a Global Times “expert” identified as Zhuang Deshui, said in the article.

The South China Morning Post reported that the CPPCC – which last year included among its members Jackie Chan and Yao Ming – was similarly expecting to cancel its session. A source told the newspaper that, while the public reason for postponing the meetings would be not to take key local officials out of their home provinces while doing important Party work to contain the virus, the real reason was fear that the lawmakers themselves would be infected.

“The risk of cross infections would be very high for nearly 8,000 people … as well as staff responsible for administering the meetings, under the same roof of the Great Hall of the People,” the anonymous “source who is familiar with the preparations” said. “The health risk of convening the annual sessions early next month would be too high when the coronavirus outbreak has not yet been effectively contained.”

The “two sessions” are pivotal to Communist Party networking, as they bring together senior Party officials from the whole country for a typically two-week affair in Beijing. Dictator Xi Jinping’s government has attempted to excite the general public about the meetings through its propaganda wings, urging all to unite in “building a moderately prosperous society,” the stated goal of the meeting in a 2018 hip-hop song about the sessions.

“As is much anticipated, the annual Two Sessions have already opened,” the rap begins, referring to the two sessions of Congress. “So many highlights, they shouldn’t be missed!”

At press time, international health experts have documented 71,902 confirmed cases of coronavirus worldwide, over 70,500 of them in China. Of these, 1,775 people have died, most within China. Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, the Philippines, and France have documented deaths among their patients.

The World Health Organization (WHO) began what Xinhua called “field inspections” in China on Monday meant to evaluate China’s response to the virus. The WHO team will not visit Wuhan or any place in Hubei province, where Wuhan is located.

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