Together with the National People’s Congress, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) is popularly characterized as one of the lianghui or twin parliamentary sittings in China. First, a little about the institution itself. The CPPCC is a consultative body. It does not possess executive power of the state nor does it legislate laws like a parliament with parliamentary sovereignty or a legislature found in liberal systems. The CPPCC is somewhat of a unique institution with Chinese characteristics. It brings together a diverse array of people from all around China for political consultation. They represent Chinese people of different interests and groups. The venue of the Great Hall of the People where the meeting is held is known to be able to seat 10,000 individuals. The Hall was built during Mao’s era in 1959.
The importance that the CPPCC has for the international media, China watchers, and analysts are the nuggets of information and clues that it provides about the economy, leadership changes, and geopolitical stances. These clues can sometimes be interpreted correctly and sometimes misinterpreted, and they are subject to the evolving dynamics of China’s domestic situation and external geopolitical environment. In other words, there is a speculative element to it. Others are also watching for clues that can provide some perspectives or hints of the leadership transition at the 19th Party Congress.
To predict with precision what the CPPCC will discuss may be challenging, although broad issues are likely outlined in the period leading up to the meeting. However, it may be noted that there tends to be a great diversity in the issues highlighted or associated with the meeting. The key words that the global media usually associate with the CPPCC are “advisory,” “discussion,” and “consultative.” The body votes according to the policies laid out by the CCP Politburo Standing Committee led by the President of China which has executive power from the state. Perhaps the value of the CPPCC does not lie in its ability in executive participation, but in its platform for social critique and debates between various groups within the Chinese society.
There are perhaps two levels of discourse that the CPPCC discussions offer: at the tangible empirical level, an opportunity for select groups to express their wants and aspirations; and at the intangible level, ideas to mould the worldview that Chinese stakeholders covet. It offers a platform for certain sectors like non-government organizations, minority groups, and special administrative region (SAR) representatives to raise their opinions about political and social issues concerning their interests. It offers such groups an avenue to address domestic, sometimes bread and butter, issues like pollution, waste conservation, environmental protection, biodiversity, and the food supply at the national level. Given that China is a sub-continental entity, this national coverage may be coveted and valued by its stakeholders.
It may be of some interest to foreigners as well, as they descend upon Beijing to observe how the CPPCC tackles pressing issues like corruption, environmental protection, or other seemingly domestic issues that occupy prominent position/priorities in the Xi administration’s political initiatives. Some of these issues may hold some comparative case study value for the foreign observers for their own locales. But perhaps one aspect that draws the most attention, understandably so, will be hints on the development of the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative by Beijing. This multilateral global initiative offers funding and other financial packages and procedures of interest to other countries. It is still in a stage of evolution and development and so interested parties are keen to detect some policy orientations or directions in this arena, or even listen to responses to the ambitious initiative.
Besides tangible issues, at the narrative level, some point to China’s efforts in advocating economic globalization as possible topics or related matters to be brought up at the meeting. This may or may not be related to the recent Brexit and US internal political dynamics where there are perceptions of potential pushbacks against globalization, rightly or wrongly. It must be stated that, at this stage, it is still too early to tell if the pushback against globalization is sustainable. There are important stakes for China in globalization because some argue that China’s companies should seek new markets overseas in order to counterbalance a slowing economy at home (“the new normal”).
Others see it as a complementary work with the US to sustain the global order, of which China is a major beneficiary. In such narratives, China appears to want to offer expertise, experience, and know-how to others to avoid the pitfalls it has experienced, and maybe facilitate the potential of others in yielding the positive gains that accounted for the rise of China. These are esoteric discussions targeted at academics, thinkers, social intellectuals, and deep-thinking policy makers. Such esoteric discussions may be the result of the decades-long ambitions by China to seek a world order that it is comfortable with, in accordance with Chinese perceptions of social justice. Other powers may or may not naturally perceive this vision quite differently from China.
Other issues concern the SARs, where there are swirling rumors that CY Leung, the Chief Executive (CE) of Hong Kong SAR, will be nominated as a participant in the CPPCC and maybe even have a shot at its Vice Chairmanship (there are over 20 vice chairs in the CPPCC at the moment). If this happens, then Leung will attain the status of a veteran or senior politician, national leader, or elder statesperson. It would also reflect Beijing’s support and approval for the CE’s work as the next CE is set to take over after the election. It would also follow the tradition laid down by former Hong Kong CE Tung Chee Hwa and former Macau CE Edmund Ho Hau-Wah.
Top political appointments universally come with political battles between supporters and detractors. This is, in general, natural and reflective of all top appointments in politics. If CY Leung can promote the interests of Hong Kong, he may garner some additional approval from his supporters, thereby opening up a window of opportunity to rub shoulders in Beijing’s corridors of power. His detractors may continue the fight to discredit him; anti-Leung opposition forces will likely up the stakes in their disapproval of the retiring leader, especially if he is given the status of a national leader or senior politician/statesperson.
As for Taiwan, a recent spot of news came from the utterances of Yu Zhengsheng, the Chairperson of the National Committee of the CPPCC who reportedly asked Taiwan’s social organizations to assist with integration across the Straits. This took place during a meeting between Yu and Taiwanese social organizations on January 9, 2017. At the same time, Yu invited young people from Taiwan to visit China, as reported widely in the local mainland Chinese media.