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Minxin Pei: The importance of China's annual rubber-stamp ritual

The National People's Congress serves a key function for China's ruling elite

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Chinese President Xi Jinping appears on screen during the opening session of the National People's Congress.   © Reuters

China's National People's Congress, the country's legislature and nominally supreme political institution, opened its 11-day session on March 5. Expectations are unsurprisingly muted for the outcome of this year's gathering. As usual, the NPC session will give pro forma approval to a report summarizing the performance of the State Council -- China's cabinet -- and to the 2017 economic development plan, as well as to various other government "work reports." Among the laws on the table for passage at the annual session, the only consequential one is the "General Provisions" of a new civil code, which lays out the definitions of key terms in Chinese civil law.

However, no one should expect any debate over the draft law because the NPC is a typical rubber-stamp parliament. It is headed by a member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party. All the delegates to the annual congress are handpicked by the CCP, although technically they are chosen in uncompetitive elections. The party sets the legislative agenda and writes and approves laws before they are submitted to the congress for a formal vote.

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