BEIJING -- China is in the midst of another large gathering of its political elite less than four months after holding a conclave to install a new Communist Party leadership. The current meeting, the annual session of the national legislature, completes the once-a-decade leadership transition that began in November, rounding out top-level appointments that will manage economic and foreign policies of the world's second-largest economy and still-rising global power.
Here's a look at what will happen and its importance to the world.
Why hold another big confab so soon after inaugurating new leaders?
Though the Communist Party is the pre-eminent political power in China, it works through the government. The National People's Congress, which opened Tuesday, is China's nominal legislature and will announce top appointments to the government, its ministries, the legislature and other bodies. The event, which runs 13 days, bookends the party convention in November that anointed Xi Jinping as general secretary and other members of the Politburo, the apex of power in China. In the current conclave, Li Keqiang, the party's No. 2, is expected to be named premier, the top politician in charge of the State Council, the Cabinet. After this meeting, the Xi leadership will have its team fully in place to move ahead with their agenda.
What does the congress really do?
The congress tends to be highly orchestrated, more political theater than actual deliberation. Decisions have been made by Xi and power-brokers drawn from the party, government and military in closed-door meetings, and the legislature, which is controlled by the party, ratifies the decisions. Still, it's the most public event in China's political calendar and provides a networking opportunity for the leadership and the invited. Xi and other leaders get a chance to put their message across to the 2,987 deputies, who represent a cross-section of political notables from local governments on up. The public – and the world – also get their most unfiltered look at the premier, who holds his sole news conference of the year at the end of the congress.
If back-room deal-making dominates, does the event matter?
While the decision-making is still secretive, the congress is the way the party makes the decisions public. Policies announced during the session show the Xi leadership's priorities. This year, the government is putting the emphasis on cleaning up corruption and the environment and addressing other quality-of-life matters that have irritated the public, particularly a burgeoning middle class that's looking beyond pocket-book issues. A streamlining of government ministries is supposed to prod them into better serving the public and private businesses, instead of state companies. The 300 or so appointments of vice premiers, ministers, deputy ministers and others also show whether Xi and his allies are consolidating their power or having to horse-trade with rivals.
Will the new leaders bring real change?
Given China's slow-moving and opaque politics, it's too early to say whether substantive change is in the offing. But expectations for change are running high. Many in the middle class and beyond feel the policies that brought decades of high growth are foundering on official waste and environmental despoliation and unfairly benefit the party-connected few. Xi and Li represent a new generation, the first leaders born after the revolution and to have come of age during the reform era. Xi has already earned praise for being more plain spoken than his predecessor, Hu Jintao. Still, though Xi has talked about people's aspirations for better lives and the need to stanch corruption, the leadership is not signaling any moves toward democracy.