Chinese parliamentary sessions 2014

A nod to grief, then back to business: NPC refuses to be distracted by Malaysia Airlines and Kunming disasters

Two national disasters that have left scores dead, injured or missing have not been allowed to interrupt the agendas of the NPC or CPPCC

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 March, 2014, 4:39am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 March, 2014, 4:29pm

In many countries, national disasters can disrupt parliamentary sessions and dominate their agendas for days. But not on the mainland.

Apart from a minute's silence at the start of the National People's Congress (NPC) for victims of the deadly March 1 attack at Kunming's main train station, everything has been business as usual at the once-a-year parliamentary meeting in Beijing.

Neither did news of the disappearance of Beijing-bound Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 carrying 239 passengers and crew, including more than 150 Chinese nationals, dominate the discussions at the NPC and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).

As the Malaysia Air mystery continues to grab headlines and raise speculation around the world about what happened, most state media were restrained from reporting on the event other than repeating Xinhua's official dispatches.

A gagging order purportedly from the propaganda department was reposted on hundreds of mainland microblog messages yesterday. Two state media journalists separately verified its authenticity .

"Media [outlets] are not allowed to analyse or comment on the incident. Reporting must strictly follow the authoritative accounts of the civil aviation authorities and Xinhua," it said.

It also said they should avoid interviewing victims' families and "provoking discontent". Instead, they should step up "propaganda" regarding the NPC sessions, it added.

On Saturday, state broadcaster CCTV's main newscast reported that President Xi Jinping ordered officials to handle matters regarding victims of their families in a proper manner.

But newscasts on Sunday and last night focused on the congress, dedicating only the last few minutes of their bulletins to news about the missing Malaysia Airlines passenger aircraft.

Political commentator Gao Yu said the lack of discussion on either disaster at the NPC showed the congress, the top decision-making body representing ordinary people, was "out of touch with reality".

"The NPC needs to discuss why these things happen," she said. "It shows our political system cannot deal with the contingencies of real emergencies."

But many NPC deputies and CPPCC delegates such as Wang Ming , a professor at Tsinghua University, said terrorism and disasters should not distract them from the congresses' main agendas - the government's efforts to deepen economic reforms.

Hu Xingdou, a professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology, said congress meetings in China had always shied away from "sensitive" topics.

"They won't make decisions on important issues because the central authorities would have made them already," Hu said.

Although some newspapers did carry their own reports on the air disaster, veteran journalist Chang Ping said most had been given a positive and sentimental spin to portray people helping others or officials in a positive light. "It's habitual propaganda."

Additional reporting by Ivan Zhai and Wu Nan