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China Starts its 'Two Sessions' Meetings: Why They Matter

The National People's Congress in China is holding its annual political conference from March 4. Join us to follow its expected key themes and priorities.



A press conference was held for the National People's Congress of China at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 4. (© Sankei by Yasuto Tanaka)

What are some of the key themes of the "Two Sessions" meeting ongoing in Beijing, China from March 4?  On top of the list is the Chinese economy.

The dominant theme this year will be how to develop advanced technology in China, according to Rory Green, Chief China Economist at GlobalData TS Lombard.

He expects that the government will use money and influence to back manufacturers. In turn, the manufacturers will seek to give China a boost in the tech race against its international rivals.

The consensus among economists is that the annual growth target will remain at "around 5%." 

"The priority that they have given to growth has been reduced. Yes, they should be able to get richer, but it's going to become more difficult," says Martin Wolf, Chief Economic Commentator for the Financial Times

China has experienced a disappointing recovery since the lifting of restrictions following the COVID-19 pandemic. There are also continued worries about a crisis in the real estate market, sluggish domestic consumption, and a slowdown in demand for certain exports.

Lou Qinjian, spokesperson for the National People's Congress of China, answers questions from reporters at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 4. (© Sankei by Yasuto Tanaka)

Aging Population

Like other Asian countries, including Japan, China faces an aging population and a shrinking workforce. Mr Wolf says it is unlikely that China will respond to this by accepting a large number of foreign immigrants. However, it could relax the rules on internal migration, encouraging more people to move from rural areas into cities.

The lesson from Japan is that such migration can lead to problems in the countryside. Particularly if communities lose people of working age. It has proved difficult to persuade people born in rural Japan to remain there and raise families.


Work Report

Premier Li Qiang will deliver his first work report on Tuesday. Around 3,000 National People's Congress deputies who are attending the event will then rubber-stamp the report. "Li Qiang is unlikely to deliver any big surprises," according to Neil Thomas and Jing Qian of the Asia Society. 

They say that Xi Jinping appears to believe that short-term pain may be required in the quest for a more secure and self-reliant economy. But they note that big questions remain about whether China can achieve its long-term goals without structural reform.

The Chinese Navy Kuznetsov-class aircraft carrier "Liaoning" in the Pacific Ocean east of Okinawa in December 2022. (©The Ministry of Defense Joint Staff Office)

Defense Spending

A figure may be announced for China's defense spending. Analysts expect the defense budget to grow in line with economic growth. Last year's announced increase was 7.2 percent, although the actual figure is extremely difficult to verify.

In Japan, the government of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has recently increased defense spending. That decision was partly in response to tensions with China in the South China Sea and around the Senkaku Islands.

The number of days Chinese government vessels were spotted around the islands reached a record high in 2023. That is according to data released by the Japanese Coast Guard.

China also plans to modernize its weapons systems and carry out drills involving its new aircraft carrier, Fujian

The state-backed newspaper The Global Times says that China has not fought a war in decades. But it adds that "only through realistic combat training can its force maintain the capability to safeguard national sovereignty, territorial integrity and to serve as a credible deterrent in preventing wars."

Foreign Affairs

The focus of the March conference in Beijing is largely domestic. Nevertheless, there is speculation that a new foreign minister may be announced. Liu Jianchao, Director of the International Department of the Chinese Communist Party. He has also been mentioned as a possible successor to Wang Yi, who is almost 70 years old.

Wang Yi was reappointed as foreign minister in July 2023 after Qin Gang was abruptly removed from the position.


The Wall Street Journal reported in September, citing people familiar with a briefing, that Qin was ousted over an extramarital affair he had during a previous posting as ambassador to the United States. An investigation was focused on whether his conduct had compromised China's national security, according to the Journal.

Seasoned China watchers say it is worth analyzing the questions posed to the foreign minister. Those will come at a carefully orchestrated press conference during the political meetings. The questions themselves can provide useful clues about China's diplomatic priorities.

There will also be a speech by President Xi Jinping to wrap up the event.

"I don't think China will want to say much about the situation in the US during an election year," says Rory Green. "It will probably adopt a wait-and-see approach and avoid antagonism."

East Asian Situation 

It is rare for Chinese leaders to mention Japan or South Korea during these types of meetings. However, in September 2023, the foreign ministers of the three East Asian countries agreed that their leaders should meet at the earliest opportunity.

Since that announcement, South Korea has appointed a new foreign minister, Cho Tae-yul. Initially, there were indications that he would take a more friendly line towards China than his recent predecessor.

However, during a visit to Washington in February, Mr Cho was eager to emphasize the extremely tight relationship between the US and South Korea. He said the two countries have "always moved in lockstep." Then he added that they stand together on key issues such as North Korea's increasingly provocative rhetoric and Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

South Korea is set to host an event called the Summit for Democracy from March 18-20. The theme will be Democracy for Future Generations. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will attend in person, as will senior representatives of the Japanese government.


China has not been invited and will not be involved in the summit.

Follow JAPAN Forward for updates.


Author: Duncan Bartlett, Diplomatic Correspondent

Mr Bartlett is the Diplomatic Correspondent for JAPAN Forward and a Research Associate at the SOAS China Institute. Read his articles and essays.

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