Li Keqiang

Rubber stamp or not, annual session bears watching closely

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 March, 2008, 12:00am


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It is the fate of China's nominal parliament - the National People's Congress - to seem more boring than it actually is.

Interesting bits of realpolitik - such as who gets promoted, sacked or moved - will have happened well before its full, annual session opens next week. What is typically left for about 3,000 national delegates to do is sit through two carefully choreographed weeks of scripted speechmaking, and overwhelmingly approve law bills and work reports.

But the rubber-stamp parliament is still keenly watched.

The annual full session of the NPC remains the only real occasion when the media can get remotely close to the top public officials.

And with the Olympics looming large, Beijing has felt the need to be less secretive, or at least to project such an image. Eleven press conferences have been scheduled for this year's NPC meeting and that of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

The new team of vice-premiers and state councillors will be a shrewd mixture of economics experts, skilful diplomats, military hardliners and blue-blood politicians.

The new female face at the top level will be Liu Yandong , one of President Hu Jintao's most trusted allies and a 'princeling' - as the children of party veterans are known. Ms Liu, 62, appears to be as amiable as retiring Vice-Premier Wu Yi is feisty, and a newly created fifth vice-premier slot covering culture, education and sports would seem to suit her well.

Another touch of diversity in Premier Wen Jiabao's relaunched team will come from Dai Bingguo , a senior diplomat born into an ethnic-minority family in Guizhou province .

Mr Dai, 66, who has a knack for tackling thorny bilateral issues such as the China-India border talks and the Sino-US strategic dialogue, is poised to become Mr Wen's top adviser on foreign relations, replacing retiring State Councillor Tang Jiaxuan .

The decision most likely to stand out in the reshuffle will be Li Keqiang , at 52 the youngest member of the ultra-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, taking over as executive vice-premier with direct oversight of macroeconomics.

Mr Li will be scrutinised. In most eyes, this top protege of Mr Hu, who is shaping up to succeed Mr Wen as the country's premier in 2013, is yet to be seriously tested.

But the former Henan and Liaoning party boss is said to have been given the role of spearheading a massive restructuring of the cabinet, which will see about 100 ministerial-level cadres moved.