China to hold delayed annual parliament meeting on May 22

30, Apr. 2020

BEIJING, Kyodo - China will hold a postponed annual session of its parliament from May 22, state-run media said Wednesday, signaling the government's confidence that it has brought the country's coronavirus outbreak under control.

Every year, the National People's Congress takes place for around 10 days from March 5 in Beijing, with about 3,000 delegates gathering from across the nation to set a gross domestic product growth target and endorse key policies for the coming year.

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But speculation is growing that the Chinese leadership of President Xi Jinping will not announce a target for 2020 as the world's second-largest economy has been severely hurt by measures implemented to slow the virus' spread, stifling business activity significantly.

Official media also said the top political advisory body called the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, whose membership includes celebrities and sports stars as well as business leaders, will convene its annual meeting from May 21.

It is not immediately known for how many days the two sessions will be held.

In February, the government made an unprecedented decision to postpone the parliamentary session for an unspecified period as it struggled to contain the pneumonia-causing virus.

There was apparently concern within the ruling Communist Party and the government that a gathering of officials in Beijing from all across China would increase the risk of the epidemic worsening.

China's nationwide virus numbers, however, have dwindled in recent weeks, with the months-long lockdown on the hardest-hit central city of Wuhan lifted on April 8.

"The current situation of prevention and control of the new coronavirus has continued to improve, and economic and social life gradually has returned to normal," the standing committee of the National People's Congress said.

"Taking all factors into consideration, the conditions have been met" for holding this year's session of the parliament, it added.

Since the new coronavirus was first detected in the central city of Wuhan late last year, China has reported more than 80,000 infection cases for the mainland, with over 4,500 deaths linked to COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus.

The congress had convened March 5 every year since 1998 at the Great Hall of the People in the capital. Even in 2003, when a virus that caused severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, raged in China, the annual session went ahead as usual.

Following the postponement of the parliamentary session, Xi delayed his state visit to Japan planned for early April with both governments agreeing that his visit "must be ensured in the most opportune time, environment and atmosphere."

In the wake of the virus outbreak, China's economy marked its first quarterly decline on record in the first quarter of 2020, down 6.8 percent from a year earlier, with industrial production dropping 8.4 percent and retail sales plummeting 19.0 percent.

The last time China's economy recorded a full year of economic contraction was 1976, the final year of the 10-year Cultural Revolution initiated by Mao Zedong that, observers say, left tens of millions of people dead. (Kyodo)