China allows Xi to remain president indefinitely, tightening his grip on power


Chinese President Xi Jinping applauds after the parliament passed a constitutional amendment lifting presidential term limit, at the third plenary session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China March 11, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee

Ben Blanchard, Christian Shepherd March 11, 2018

BEIJING (Reuters) – China removed presidential term limits from its constitution on Sunday, giving President Xi Jinping the right to remain in office indefinitely, and confirming his status as the country’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong died more than 40 years ago.

China’s ruling Communist Party announced the proposed amendment only last month and there was never any doubt it would pass as parliament is packed with loyal party members who would not have opposed the proposal.

The amendments also include inserting Xi’s political theory into the constitution, something that was already added to the party charter in October at the end of a party congress, a feat no other leader since Mao had managed while in office. Additionally, clauses were included to give a legal framework to a new super anti-corruption department.

Only two “no” votes were cast, with three abstentions, from almost 3,000 delegates.

Reporters were briefly ushered from the main hall in the Great Hall of the People as delegates filled in their ballot papers, but allowed in to see them placing the papers, one by one, into large red ballot boxes around the room.

Xi cast his vote first, on the podium at the front of the hall, followed in turn by the other six members of the party’s elite Standing Committee, which runs China.

The room erupted into loud applause when the result of the vote was passed, though Xi did not address parliament.

The limit of two five-year presidential terms was written into China’s constitution in 1982 after Mao’s death six years earlier by Deng Xiaoping, who recognized the dangers of one-man rule and the cult of personality after the chaos of the Cultural Revolution and instead espoused collective leadership.

Speaking later to reporters, Shen Chunyao, chairman of the Legislative Affairs Commission of parliament’s standing committee, dismissed concerns the move could risk a return to strongman rule or lead to political turmoil or infighting.

“As for the assumptions, conjecture and stretched situations in your question, I think that does not exist,” Shen said.

In the past nine decades of the party’s history it has overcome hardships and resolved major problems, including orderly leadership transitions and keeping the party and country’s vitality and long-term stability, he added.

“In the nearly 40 years of reform and opening up, we have successfully established, upheld and expanded the political development road of socialism with Chinese characteristics,” Shen said.

“So, going forward the road we are on will definitely be longer and wider, and the future brighter and brighter.”

CULT OF PERSONALITY

Xi, 64, swiftly consolidated power after taking over as party chief in late 2012, and the move to lift the presidential term limits is not unexpected.

In the run up to the vote, critics on Chinese social media attacked the move and drew parallels to North Korea or suggested a Mao-type cult of personality was forming. But the government quickly mounted a propaganda push, blocking some comments and publishing pieces praising the proposal.

The party loyalists who attend the annual session of parliament have said the decision is popular with ordinary Chinese people and asserted that China was lucky to have a leader of Xi’s caliber.

“Protecting the country’s long-term stability is an extremely good thing,” Cheng Bingqiang from Sichuan province told Reuters shortly ahead of the vote, when asked if he worried about Xi being in office forever.

He Guangliang from the southwestern province of Guizhou said it wasn’t fair to draw comparisons with North Korea.

“China has it’s own national characteristics,” He said. “There’s no one system that suits all countries.”

However the question was too sensitive for several legislators, who scurried away when asked about Xi being in office forever.

“You can’t ask me that,” said one lady, laughing nervously and declining to give her name.

In a further measure of Xi’s strength, a key Xi ally, former top graft-buster Wang Qishan, could be elected vice president on Saturday, having stepped down from the Standing Committee in October.

He cast his vote right after the seven members of the Standing Committee. The amendment also lifts term limits for the vice presidency.

“We’ve not got around to discussing that yet,” Chen Yunying, a senior defector from self-ruled Taiwan who is married to Justin Yifu Lin, the World Bank’s former chief economist.

“We’ll get it in the next few days,” she told Reuters, referring to the candidate list for vice president, and adding “everyone has been saying” it will be Wang for the position.

CONSOLIDATING POWER

Xi began his second five-year term as party chief in October and at the end of the week will be formally appointed by parliament to his second term as president.

The government has said lifting the term limits is about protecting the authority of the party with Xi at its center. The party’s official People’s Daily has said this does not mean life-long terms.

The party gave Xi the title of “core” leader in 2016, a significant strengthening of his position at the time.

While the presidency is important, Xi’s positions as head of the party and head of the military are considered more important, and these titles are always given first by state media. With the passage of the amendment, now none of the posts have formal term limits.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Michael Perry, Shri Navaratnam and Mark Potter

Source: Reuters “China allows Xi to remain president indefinitely, tightening his grip on power”

Note: This is Reuters’ report I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the report’ views.

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China lays out its vision to become a tech power


China aims to become a world leader in advanced industries such as semiconductors and in the next generation of chip materials, robotics, aviation equipment and satellites, the government said in its blueprint for development between 2016 and 2020.

In its new draft five-year development plan unveiled on Saturday, Beijing also said it aims to use the internet to bolster a slowing economy and make the country a cyber power.

China aims to boost its R&D spending to 2.5 percent of gross domestic product for the five-year period, compared with 2.1 percent of GDP in 2011-to-2015.

Innovation is the primary driving force for the country’s development, Premier Li Keqiang said in a speech at the start of the annual full session of parliament.

China is hoping to marry its tech sector’s nimbleness and ability to gather and process mountains of data to make other, traditional areas of the economy more advanced and efficient, with an eye to shoring up its slowing economy and helping transition to a growth model that is driven more by services and consumption than by exports and investment.

This policy, known as “Internet Plus”, also applies to government, health care and education.

As technology has come to permeate every layer of Chinese business and society, controlling technology and using technology to exert control have become key priorities for the government.

China will implement its “cyber power strategy”, the five-year plan said, underscoring the weight Beijing gives to controlling the Internet, both for domestic national security and the aim of becoming a powerful voice in international governance of the web.

China aims to increase Internet control capabilities, set up a network security review system, strengthen cyberspace control and promote a multilateral, democratic and transparent international Internet governance system, according to the plan.

Since President Xi Jinping came to power in early 2013, the government has increasingly reined in the Internet, seeing the web as a crucial domain for controlling public opinion and eliminating anti-Communist Party sentiment.

China will “strengthen the struggle against enemies in online sovereign space and increase control of online public sentiment,” said the plan.

It will also “perfect cybersecurity laws and legislation”.

Such laws and regulations have sparked fear amongst foreign businesses operating in China, and prompted major powers to express concern to Beijing over three new or planned laws, including one on counterterrorism.

These laws codify sweeping powers for the government to combat perceived threats, from widespread censorship to heightened control over certain technologies.

(Reporting by Paul Carsten; Additional reporting by Ryan Woo in BEIJING; Editing by Kim Coghill)

Source: Reuters “China lays out its vision to become a tech power”


China aims to maintain growth pace, fend off unemployment in five-year plan


China's President Xi Jinping and China's Premier Li Keqiang stand up as they prepare to leave the opening session of the National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing, China, March 5, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Lee

China’s President Xi Jinping and China’s Premier Li Keqiang stand up as they prepare to leave the opening session of the National People’s Congress (NPC) in Beijing, China, March 5, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Lee

China faces a tough battle to keep its economy growing by at least 6.5 percent over the next five years while creating more jobs and restructuring inefficient industries, Premier Li Keqiang said as he opened China’s annual parliament on Saturday.

Growth of 6.5 percent would mark a ripping pace for most countries but would be the slowest in China in a quarter century as world’s No. 2 economy grapples with gyrating financial markets, softening global trade and efforts to reduce environmental degradation.

“Our country’s development faces more and greater difficulties … so we must be prepared for a tough battle,” Li said.

In 2016, Beijing will aim for an economic growth rate between 6.5-7 percent, as Reuters previously reported, with a consumer inflation target of around 3 percent and money supply expansion of around 13 percent, according to a series of draft reports ahead of the opening of the 12-day parliament.

Many investors had been hoping China would post an aggressive target for fiscal spending to prop growth.

But the draft goal of running a fiscal deficit equivalent to 3 percent of GDP, while up from the previous year’s target of 2.3 percent, still disappointed some who had hoped for a number closer to 4.

“The budget deficit of 3 percent is not enough and should be increased,” economist and former central bank advisor Yu Yongding told Reuters on the sidelines of the meeting.

Zhou Hao, economist at Commerzbank in Singapore, said the low figure may reflect concerns that a higher number would signal tolerance for another spree of debt-fueled growth such as that Beijing embarked on in 2009.

Moody’s recently downgraded the outlook for Chinese sovereign debt, a move Chinese regulators said was unjustified.

“The pressure from rating agencies could be something China has to consider, indicating that China is cautious on rolling out large infrastructure investment that could result in long-term debt issues,” Zhou said in a email.

KILL THE ZOMBIES

The reports provide a blueprint of China’s aspirations for the next five years across a range of sectors and measures.

They show Beijing trying to strike a balance between holding up growth and restructuring underperforming industries, where so-called “zombie firms” are responsible for much of the country’s corporate debt overhang left over from the 2009 stimulus.

In lead up to parliament, the government flagged major job losses in key coal and steel industries. Overall, China aims to lay off 5-6 million state workers over the next two to three years, two sources said, in Beijing’s boldest retrenchment program in almost two decades.

Li said the country will create 10 million new jobs, address zombie firms through mergers, bankruptcies and debt deals, and hold the urban registered unemployment rate below 4.5 percent in 2016.

Seeking to improve the environment, Beijing aims to cap total energy consumption at 5 billion tonnes of standard coal by 2020 and set targets for improving water efficiency.

China will increase military spending by 7.6 percent this year, its lowest increase in six years, as it pursues a modernization plan that will shrink staffing.

Unlike previous years, the documents did not mention a specific target for trade figures, having missed their goals repeatedly in recent years.

Weighed down by sluggish demand at home and abroad, industrial overcapacity and faltering investment, China’s economic growth slowed to 6.9 percent in 2015.

Economists widely expect it to cool further to a still-healthy rate of around 6.5 percent this year.

But slower growth raises the specter of social unrest, as the transformation from low-end manufacturing to high technology and services leads to rising structural unemployment.

FIXING MARKETS

Beijing hopes the country’s financial markets can play a stronger role in supporting the economic transformation.

“We will move forward with the reform of stock and bond markets and increase the level of rule of law in their development, promote the sound development of the multilevel capital market, and ensure that the proportion of direct financing is increased,” Li said.

The reassurance comes after Chinese markets erupted in 2015, with the stock indexes crashing, the yuan sliding sharply, and property markets in major cities spiked while smaller cities lagged.

Those moves prompted heavy-handed intervention from the government, leading some to question whether the Chinese Communist Party was capable of following through on its commitment to let markets play a “decisive role” in setting the price of assets.

Li said China will open its capital account in an “orderly manner” and continue to improve the exchange rate regime in 2016.

(Additional reporting by Kevin Yao, Sue-Lin Wong, Zhang Xiaochong, Adam Rose, Kathy Chen, Niu Shuping, and Michael Martina; Writing by Pete Sweeney; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

Source: Reuters “China aims to maintain growth pace, fend off unemployment in five-year plan”


Pollution, food safety China’s top legal agenda -NPC Chairman Zhang Dejiang


Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the Standing Committee of China's National People's Congress, delivers his work report. Photo: Xinhua

Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress, delivers his work report. Photo: Xinhua

NPC chairman Zhang Dejiang tells delegates it is time to address growing public concerns over mounting threats to their health

China’s top lawmaker vowed yesterday to push forward legislation in areas of key public concern, including pollution and oversight of officials’ conduct.

National People’s Congress (NPC) Chairman Zhang Dejiang made his comments while delivering his annual work report to delegates, echoing Premier Li Keqiang’s remarks to open the annual congress last week.

Zhang, who ranks third in the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, said combatting pollution would be one of the top priorities to be addressed this year by the NPC, through legislation and oversight, as public dissatisfaction over environmental degradation in China intensified.

“We will revise the Environmental Protection Law and the Air Pollution Prevention and Control Law to improve environmental protection and management so that emissions of all pollutants are strictly supervised,” Zhang said.

“[We will] enforce the strictest systems for protecting the environment by controlling pollution at the source, holding polluters accountable and ensuring that they compensate for the damage they cause,” he said.

The NPC also plans to revise the Food Safety Law, another leading cause of public concern. Li had earlier vowed to apply the strictest possible oversight and accountability to prevent food contamination.

Zhang promised to strengthen oversight of the State Council, the Supreme People’s Court and Supreme People’s Procuratorate (the state prosecutor’s office) in the coming year.

“We need to focus oversight on major reform, development and stability issues and on sensitive issues of particular concern to the people,” said Zhang.

On other issues, the NPC will also hear and deliberate on reports from the State Council on deepening reforms and strengthening financial regulation to lessen financial risks.

The NPC has long been regarded as a “rubber stamp” body to the Communist Party and has limited powers over the central and provincial governments.

A recent corruption scandal in Hengyang , Hunan province, further eroded public confidence in the legislative body after 518 of the 527 members of the city’s people’s congress were accused of accepting bribes totalling more 110 million yuan (HK$139 million) in a cash-for-votes scandal, local media reported in December.

“We are keenly aware that the work of the [NPC] Standing Committee still falls well short of the expectations of the people and the demands of deputies,” Zhang said. “[The Hengyang case] exerted a destructive influence and was a stern warning. We must strengthen the organisation and leadership of the election of NPC deputies … uphold the authority and sanctity of the system of people’s congresses … and of the constitution and laws.”

Some internet users praised Zhang’s reports as responsive, while other said such problems were endemic.

“The NPC has responded to the public’s concerns, but it lacks the capacity to solve the problems. The same problems will be raised again next year. The Hengyang scandal matters little as China has no real elections,” said Zhang Xuezhong, a law professor who was fired by a university last year for his criticism of leaders.

Source: SCMP “Pollution and food safety to top legal agenda this year, Zhang Dejiang tells NPC delegates”

Related posts:

  • Chinese Premier Li Keqiang announces central government war on pollution, dated March 5, 2014
  • China sends government teams to investigate pollution dated February 24, 2014
  • Choking smog over eastern provinces spreads into Beijing dated December 8, 2013
  • Smog descends again on northeast China, closing roads, airport dated November 25, 2013
  • China: Thick Smog Blocked Road, Train, Air Traffic for 2 Days in Three Northeast Provinces October 21, 2013
  • Beijing and surrounding Regions blighted by smog yet again February 18, 2013

China to toughen environment law, hold polluters accountable


Commuters wearing masks make their way amid thick haze in the morning in Beijing February 26, 2014.  Credit: Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Commuters wearing masks make their way amid thick haze in the morning in Beijing February 26, 2014.
Credit: Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon

China will toughen its environmental protection laws to target polluters, according to a high-level policy report released on Sunday, paving the way for possibly unlimited penalties for polluting and the suspension or shutdown of polluters.

The revised law would hold “polluters accountable for the damage they cause and having them compensate for it”, said the report, delivered by Zhang Dejiang, who sits on the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee as one of the country’s most powerful politicians.

Premier Li Keqiang declared a “war on pollution” in a report during the country’s annual parliamentary session on Wednesday, but critics say the statement amounts to mere rhetoric without legal reforms to back it up.

The environment has emerged as one of Beijing’s key priorities amid growing public disquiet about urban smog, dwindling and polluted water supplies and the widespread industrial contamination of farmland.

Sources with ties to the leadership told Reuters in February that amendments to China’s 1989 environmental law would expand the environment ministry’s powers significantly and allow regulators to suspend and shut down repeat offenders.

Sunday’s policy report did not give specific details on how enforcement would be toughened. China’s environment ministry has historically been unable to enforce anti-pollution laws effectively.

Almost all Chinese cities monitored for pollution last year failed to meet state standards.

China tested a domestically-produced drone aircraft that disperses smog by releasing a chemical catalyst, state media reported on Sunday.

Source: Reuters “China to toughen environment law, hold polluters accountable”

Related posts:

  • China sends government teams to investigate pollution dated February 24, 2014
  • Choking smog over eastern provinces spreads into Beijing dated December 8, 2013
  • Smog descends again on northeast China, closing roads, airport dated November 25, 2013
  • China: Thick Smog Blocked Road, Train, Air Traffic for 2 Days in Three Northeast Provinces October 21, 2013
  • Beijing and surrounding Regions blighted by smog yet again February 18, 2013

‘Chinese are shorter than Japanese, Koreans’: Yao Ming, lawmaker spotlight China’s fitness problems


Yao Ming (centre) towers over reporters as he heads to the CPPCC meetings in Beijing. Photo: Reuters

Yao Ming (centre) towers over reporters as he heads to the CPPCC meetings in Beijing. Photo: Reuters

Obesity, eye problems and lagging height among youth a sign that nation must improve health

A National People’s Congress delegate has urged ramped-up health programmes for the youth, saying more Chinese children are suffering from obesity and are lagging behind their taller South Korean and Japanese peers.

“The physical fitness level has been declining for the past 25 years,” said Wu Zhengxian, a lawmaker and a director at the Beijing Institute of Education. “All levels of indicators, including endurance, power, strength and speed have been become poorer.”

“On the other hand, the number of obese and shortsighted students is increasing,” she said during a panel meeting for the NPC’s Beijing delegates on Premier Li Keqiang’s work report.

The concerns were echoed by former NBA star Yao Ming, a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), which together with the NPC make up the nation’s parliament.

“Nowadays, [there is] no more long-distance running, no more strenuous exercise for students,” said the 2.29-metre-tall Yao, who was among the tallest players in the US basketball league before retiring from the Houston Rockets in 2011.

“No one dares to take the responsibility. It becomes a vicious spiral later. The less you exercise, the worse you physical health will be,” Yao said.

Wu, who specialises in elementary education, said the average national height, an indicator of nutrition and overall health, was also lagging.

“Chinese males from seven to 17 years old are 2.54cm shorter than Japanese in the same age range,” Wu said, without referencing specific studies.

“[In global rankings], Chinese men rank 32nd with an average height of 1.697 metres – shorter than Japanese males at 29th with 1.707 metres and Koreans who rank 18th at 1.74 metres,” she said.

A previous government work report in 2011 mentioned a Ministry of Education document requiring students below university level to exercise at least an hour a day.

But only 21.95 per cent of Chinese pupils meet this requirement, according to a recent CCTV report.

The state-run broadcaster also said 13 per cent of these students have obesity, while 38 per cent are at risk of malnutrition. More than 30 per cent of elementary school students suffer from shortsightedness, CCTV reported.

Wu said one of the biggest worries was a shortage of 240,000 physical education teachers. Currently, many P.E. teachers work part-time.

Wu suggested that Beijing should foster a better recruitment system and expanding hiring quotas at schools to attract more P.E. teachers.

To make students feel safer about strenuous exercise, Wu suggested passing legislation to provide accidental injury protection for students on campus.

Source: SCMP “’Chinese are shorter than Japanese, Koreans’: Yao Ming, lawmaker spotlight China’s fitness problems”


China parliament head warns of western-style democracy for Hong Kong


People walk past a waterfront near the People's Liberation Army (PLA) headquarters in Hong Kong February 14, 2014.  Credit: Reuters/Bobby Yip

People walk past a waterfront near the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) headquarters in Hong Kong February 14, 2014.
Credit: Reuters/Bobby Yip

The head of China’s parliament warned on Thursday that importing western-style democracy for a planned direct election in Hong Kong in 2017 could lead to “disastrous” results, a delegate who attended the closed-door meeting said.

Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with wide-ranging autonomy, an independent judiciary and relatively free press under the formula of “one country, two systems” – along with an undated promise of full democracy, an issue never broached by the British during 150 years of colonial rule.

China has agreed to let Hong Kong elect its next leader in 2017 in what will be the most far-reaching version of democracy on Chinese soil. Specific arrangements, however, have yet to be decided including, crucially, whether public nominations of candidates including opposition democrats will be allowed.

In a sign of Beijing’s hardening stance, however, Zhang Dejiang, the head of China’s parliament, or National People’s Congress (NPC), told Hong Kong delegates attending the annual NPC meetings in Beijing that western-style democracy couldn’t simply be transported to Hong Kong.

“You cannot just move or copy (the electoral system) from abroad, otherwise you might very easily find it can’t adapt to the local environment and become a democracy trap… and possibly bring a disastrous result,” said Ma Fung-kwok, a Hong Kong deputy to the NPC, citing comments made by Zhang in the two-hour meeting.

Ma didn’t give any specifics on what such a disaster might be. China’s state media also didn’t immediately report the comments by Zhang, one of China’s most powerful men on the seven-man Politburo Standing Committee.

Other delegates in the meeting said Zhang had re-emphasized three key criteria for the poll, including that candidates must “love” China and abide by the city’s mini-constitution that states all candidates must be approved by a “broadly representative nominating committee” that would more than likely be dominated by pro-Beijing loyalists.

“This direct electoral system cannot damage the motherland’s sovereignty, safety and future development, nor damage the China-Hong Kong relationship,” said Rita Fan, an NPC delegate who also attended the meeting, citing comments by Zhang.

Pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong have grown increasingly embittered by this “fake democracy” and have threatened to seal off the city’s business district in a so-called “Occupy Central” campaign of civil disobedience this summer unless Beijing allows open and public nominations.

Fan added that while Zhang didn’t mention the Occupy Central movement directly, the underlying meaning of his comments was clear.

Source: Reuters “China parliament head warns of western-style democracy for Hong Kong”