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Opinion

Freedom’s limits

China President Xi Jinping will have to countenance a major challenge at this week’s meeting of the “Two Sessions”.


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Updated: March 7, 2019

China has reached a critical juncture and President Xi Jinping ~ permanently at the helm of the party and government ~ will have to countenance a major challenge at this week’s meeting of the “Two Sessions”, so-called. Thousands of delegates will congregate at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing during the two weeks of meetings of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), an advisory body. It is a measure of the brewing tension that the authorities have gone on overdrive to muffle the faintest dissent; there is for instance a public warning against what they call “over-the-top praise” and robust condemnation. While this may be concordant with traditional Communist praxis, remarkable too must be the fact that the system, as put in place by President Xi, will take a call on the feedback from the people.

Now permanently at the helm of the party and government, Mr Xi faces public scrutiny ~ on diverse issues and on multiple fronts, notably the sluggish economy, the trade war with the US, the international concern over the Chinese tech firm, Huawei, and mounting criticism the world over of China’s treatment of Uighurs, a Muslim minority segment in Xinjiang province. Quite a change from the situation in Myanmar where the persecution of Rohingyas, also a Muslim minority group, is yet to be condemned within the country. During the meeting, NPC delegates will ratify legislation, personnel changes and the government’s budget. Aside from government officials, the delegates include business executives and celebrities.

This annual meeting, therefore, goes beyond the grandstanding of CPC ideologues. Most laws are crafted by the NPC standing committee, which runs the legislature and passes laws throughout the year. The legislature, which has been meeting since 1954, has never voted down a proposed law. But there have been instances of dissent. In 1992, only two-third of the delegates voted in favour of China’s controversial Three Gorges Dam infrastructure project. Human rights activists have been put under surveillance. Hu Jia, an environmental activist based in Beijing, has been under house arrest since 26 February and has been told that he will be taken south to Guangdong during the meeting, and allowed to return on 16 March, after the “Two Sessions” concludes. For all the presence of celebrities, it is pretty obvious that the meeting will be held on the terms set by the government and the Communist Party of China.

It thus comes about that party committees have announced a series of preventive measures, to prevent any sensitive speech that can lead to chaos during the meeting. It is imperative that the delegates will talk normally; but despite the liberal winds blowing in Xi’s China, even this kind of expression is forbidden within the four walls of the Great Hall of the People. Pretty obvious must be the limits to freedom.



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