Last Wednesday, the “Two Sessions” (see our introductory article here) officially came to a close as the National People’s Congress (“NPC”) wrapped up its final day (the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (“CPPCC”) concluded last Monday). Over the course of the past three weeks, various actors within the Chinese government have used the annual meeting as a platform for commenting on recent events, proposing policy changes, and, most importantly, conveying government policy for the coming year. (A comprehensive list of all work reports, budgets, and other documents from this year’s session of the NPC can be found here.)
Through the annual government work report, presented by Premier Li Keqiang to the National People’s Congress on its first day and ratified by NPC delegates at its closing, Beijing broadcast its overarching economic policies for 2017, such as a GDP growth rate of “around 6.5%” and a prudent, stable monetary policy, and touched upon certain themes that continually resurfaced during the Two Sessions, including housing reform, tackling air pollution, and a more prominent international role for China. (See our earlier article for a more detailed discussion of the annual government work report).
NPC delegates also passed the General Provisions on the Civil Code, effective October 1, which touch on individual privacy rights, minors’ rights, virtual asset and intellectual property rights, and more. The first step towards a new, unified Civil Code that is currently expected to debut in 2020, the General Provisions will overlay China’s existing Civil Law and other laws regarding civil affairs, such as laws on contracts and property. Where there is conflict, the General Provisions will supersede existing law, but where there is none, existing laws will remain in effect. Reviews have been mixed so far, with some commentators observing that the General Provisions do not go far enough on civil liberties and individual privacy and property rights. Work on five other areas of law that will be covered by the eventual, complete Civil Code—property, contracts, tort liability, marriage, and inheritance—is now underway.
The Two Sessions and surrounding events provided a clear sense that Beijing is increasingly assertive and confident on defense and international affairs. NPC spokeswoman Fu Ying announced early on in the Two Sessions that Beijing would continue deploying defense installations to the South China Sea. This was followed the next day by Premier Li’s statement while delivering the government work report that China would provide more “naval escorts on the high seas.” Later, at a news conference, Foreign Minister Wang Yi announced that China and the ASEAN countries had agreed upon a draft code of conduct for the South China Sea. Premier Li also announced during the government work report that China would become further involved with global governance, emphasizing the construction of a fair and equitable global economic structure. This statement was followed by the release of a cyber policy paper in which the Chinese government sets out major strategic goals regarding domestic and global Internet governance, including the establishment of a “multilateral, democratic, and transparent global Internet governance system,” as well as a “fair and reasonable international cyberspace order on the basis of state sovereignty.”
In other news, the outgoing Chief Executive for Hong Kong, Leung Chun-yin (“CY Leung”), was appointed to the post of Vice-Chairman of the CPPCC. In a prominent display, President Xi Jinping spent around a minute speaking with Leung after the closing session of the CPPCC before shaking his hand. Some observers perceived this as a signal from Beijing that it approves of Leung’s administration of the city, in addition to his firm opposition to the pro-democracy and Occupy protests that peaked in 2014. (The position of Vice-Chairman had also been given to the first Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Tung Chee-Hwa when he stepped down in 2005.) In conjunction with Li Keqiang’s refutation of “Hong Kong independence”—unprecedented for the government work report—this development may indicate a tougher stance from Beijing on Hong Kong issues going into the elections for the special autonomous region’s new Chief Executive.
While the Two Sessions have ended, a potential April visit to the U.S. by President Xi now looms on the horizon. At a press conference last Wednesday, Premier Li sought to project a more conciliatory tone on U.S.-China relations, relaying China’s desire to cooperate with the United States. This sentiment was reinforced by positive Chinese media coverage of Secretary Tillerson’s visit to China this past Sunday. Regardless, a number of issues could threaten any warming of bilateral relations, including trade tensions, North Korea, and the South China Sea. At his press conference, Premier Li also expressed China’s willingness to confront the U.S. if necessary, as in the event of a trade war.
Zhijing Yu of Covington & Burling LLP contributed to the research and preparation of this article.