By Jill Drew
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, March 14, 2008; Page A13
BEIJING — China is awash in policy proposals as more than 5,000 people meet this month to ratify laws handed down by Communist Party leaders. The official Chinese news media portray it as democracy in action — delegates, selected by local officials to represent their regions, offer ideas for laws they believe will improve conditions back home.
China’s Polituro standing member and likely future successor to President Hu, Xi Jinping, foreground, delivers remarks as China’s President Hu Jintao looks on during the plenary session of the National People’s Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in this March 11, 2008 file photo. Entrusted with the Beijing Olympics and set to be made vice president, Xi Jinpeng is moving closer to cementing his status as China’s future president and Communist Party leader.
(AP Photo/Andy Wong)
The Great Hall of the People is not exactly filled with activists and partisans vigorously debating the future of the country’s leadership. That topic is off-limits. Still, the delegates are engaged in an elaborate process that analysts say is opening a window on President Hu Jintao‘s tentative efforts to make the Communist Party relevant and to provide a controlled forum for debate.
Chinese officials have trumpeted the openness and inclusiveness of this year’s two-week National People’s Congress (NPC) and a concurrent set of meetings by the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Congress, the government’s top advisory body. Proposals are being published for public comment instead of just being offered for a rubber-stamp vote. There are noticeably more news conferences than in years past. And for the first time, several meetings of the provincial delegations have been opened to journalists.
In meetings, delegates can disagree with party positions and suggest alternatives, said David Shambaugh, director of the China policy program at George Washington University. “But if you go out and organize others,” he said, “the red line is crossed.”