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Politics

China to solidify Xi's grip on power at annual congress

Legislative session expected to be the longest since 1993

Paramilitary police in Beijing ahead of the National People's Congress session.

BEIJING -- China is slated to remove presidential term limits and adopt other measures to cement leader Xi Jinping's hold on power at an annual legislative session kicking off Monday.

The upcoming National People's Congress meeting, slated to last for 16 days, will be the longest since 1993, according to Chinese news media. The rubber-stamp congress will revise the national constitution to allow Xi to stay on past the 2023 end of his term, endorse new appointments and approve government reform centering on the creation of an anti-corruption watchdog.

China usually announces the size of its defense budget just before the congress. But NPC spokesman Zhang Yesui, executive vice foreign minister, told reporters only that spending as a share of gross domestic product will be lower compared with other major countries. By not giving a number, Zhang apparently was trying to avoid raising alarm at Chinese military expansion.

The measure doing away with presidential term limits is slated for adoption March 11, marking the first change to the constitution in 14 years. Some inside and outside the ruling Communist Party view this as excessive concentration of power.

Zhang cited Sunday the lack of term limits for other posts Xi holds, including general secretary of the Communist Party's Central Committee and chairman of the party's Central Military Commission. Bringing the presidency in line with them would make it easier to maintain the authority of the central party, with Xi at its core, the spokesman said.

Structural reform proposals will likely be unveiled at general meetings March 13. The most important entails creating a national anti-graft supervisory board that would target all public officials. Hong Kong media speculate that supervisory authorities for China's banking, securities and insurance sectors will be reshuffled and that bodies overseeing Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao may be integrated.

Politburo Standing Committee member Li Zhanshu, center, walks past Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, and Zhang Dejiang, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, as they arrive for the People's Political Consultative Conference in Beijing on March 3.   © Reuters

New official appointments, to be voted on from March 17 to March 19, will likely include Xi ally and former anti-corruption czar Wang Qishan, who was named a presiding member of the congress Sunday. Wang stepped down last fall from the Politburo Standing Committee after reaching the Communist Party's unofficial retirement age of 68 but looks set to return to power, possibly as vice president.

Yang Jiechi, a state councilor in charge of foreign affairs, is expected to become a vice premier. Eyes will also be on the fate of Foreign Minister Wang Yi. The focus will also be on who will succeed Zhou Xiaochuan as governor of the People's Bank of China.

With the Communist Party leadership having already laid the groundwork, the NPC's 3,000 or so delegates are expected to approve the constitutional revisions and government appointments. But there will inevitably be dissenting votes. China's last constitutional changes drew 27 "no" votes or abstentions.

The GDP growth target is likely to be kept around 6.5%, which the country handily beat last year at 6.9%. With Xi calling for growth that emphasizes quality over quantity, environmental protection and other factors will likely be given consideration.

A new property tax may also be adopted in an effort to control surging real estate prices and widening inequality. Zhang would not comment Sunday on whether such a measure would come up in the current NPC session, saying only that draft proposals were being quickly compiled.

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