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China People's Congress 2018

Key moments from China's 2018 legislative sessions

The National People's Congress changed the constitution and the cabinet

CK TAN, Nikkei staff writer | China

China's annual legislative sessions, with the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference meeting in parallel, have concluded after more than two weeks of discussions in Beijing.

As usual, every government proposal and nomination was approved, but with fewer dissenters than typically has been the case. Some 5,000 delegates representing the Communist Party, the civil service, state-owned companies and the private sector overwhelmingly passed key proposals that could have implications not only for China but also for the world. Here are some of the highlights.

1. Presidential term limits removed

A constitutional provision limiting the president to two five-year terms, which was added in 1982 to avert the possibility of a return to Mao Zedong-style dictatorial rule, was removed, setting the stage for Xi Jinping to potentially remain in office for the rest of his life.

Chinese officials downplayed the change, saying it would merely align the state presidency with Xi's open-ended lock on two other key posts: Communist Party general secretary and chairman of the Central Military Commission. Legislators overwhelmingly also approved a second presidential term for Xi and an amendment incorporating his political thought into the constitution.

2. Wang Qishan returned as vice president

The NPC returned Xi's trusted partner, who led his signature anti-corruption campaign for five years, to formal leadership by electing him vice president.

Wang is known as a Mr. Fix-it for his career spanning nearly half a century. Many expect Wang to play an important role in Xi's new term with foreign affairs, especially with the U.S., and possibly with financial and anti-corruption matters. Wang, who retired from the Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee in October, returns amid heightened trade tensions as U.S. President Donald Trump is reportedly preparing a large packet of measures targeted against China.

3. State administration overhauled

In the biggest reorganization of governmental functions since market reforms began in 1978, Beijing has reduced the number of ministries and cabinet-level agencies by about a third. It merged the banking and insurance regulators, underscoring the government's commitment to tighten supervision over financial institutions. A new agency has been created to extend Xi's anti-corruption campaign beyond party cadres and further into every level of the government, state companies and the private sector.

4. New central bank chief took over

Yi Gang, a U.S.-educated academic, was appointed as head of People's Bank of China, succeeding Zhou Xiaochuan who was credited with pushing many financial reforms forward during 15 years in office.

The decision took many by surprise given Yi's relatively low political rank, but observers expect Yi's overseas experience will help promote internationalization of the Chinese yuan and further the reforms Zhou initiated. With the restructuring of government responsibilities, the PBOC will take on some roles previously handled by the insurance and banking regulators, such as the drafting of new laws.

5. The eyes that rolled

Across the carefully scripted legislative sessions, with the authorities on guard against any risk of disruption, gestures by one Chinese journalist caught the world's attentions.

The moment came when a reporter from a local financial news website rolled her eyes -- and head -- as a journalist from a state-backed broadcaster asked a lengthy and apparently scripted question to a government minister in an ostensibly impromptu huddle with reporters. Video and photos of the scene proliferated on Chinese social media after it was captured by national news broadcaster CCTV, generating a wave of satirical comment - until censors decided that all domestic discussion of the matter had to be suppressed.

But many both in the country and outside continued to read their own meanings into the interaction of "Ms Blue" and "Ms Red," as the two previously low-profile journalists came to be known for what they were wearing during the scene. To Chinese journalists, however, the seemingly hilarious incident was a bitter reflection of how little freedom they felt to do their jobs during the largely rubber-stamp political gathering.

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