Signs that the Chinese government’s fight against excess is in full force could not be escaped at this year’s toned-down Chinese parliamentary meetings.
Some delegates were asked by organisers to bring their own toothbrushes, slippers and daily necessities instead of relying on hotel accoutrements. Many delegations from the provinces and cities chose to forgo chartered flights and travelled coach or by train to Beijing.
“Since last year, austerity and frugality have become common in the meetings. No red carpets, no flowers, no welcome banners - these are good [developments],” said Lei Xianhe, a famous film director and a Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) delegate.
China kick-started two key political meetings on Wednesday: one for the CPPCC and another for the nation's top lawmaking body, the National People’s Congress (NPC).
In a crowded function room at the Beijing International Hotel, where a group of delegates were discussing educational issues, dozens of mineral water bottles were seen in a corner, taped with blank labels for the names of delegates, who made sure not drink a new bottle before the old one was finished.
Some even took their leftovers home.
The ladies serving free-flowing tea, a fixture during previous meetings, were conspicuously absent at the hotel function. One cup of tea was already laid out for each delegate before the meeting started.
Shortly after taking office last year, President Xi Jinping launched a battle against extravagance and wasteful spending in the party.
According to NPC spokeswoman Fu Ying, the central government has proposed 17 measures this year, up from 15 last year, to ramp up the austerity drive.
These include streamlining logistics, banning welcome or farewell ceremonies for delegates, discouraging deputies and staff from holding banquets or exchanging gifts, and barring expensive food, alcohol and other beverages from the buffet table.
Delegates and officials are not allowed to accept donations of books or other goods.
“The NPC should serve as a model of being results-oriented and economical. We are committed to making the meetings results-oriented, economical and clean, and to place ourselves under the supervision of the public,” said Fu.
“We have followed the requirements strictly," said a staff member at the Guoyi Hotel, one of the hotels that are hosting delegates during the two-week meetings. "And the overall reception cost has been reduced significantly."
“No expensive food and no alcohol is served,” Lei, the director, confirmed. The buffet is limited to six to seven no-frills dishes.
Even documents used at the meeting are an austerity target. “Most of the documents are [kept] digital so that delegates can download [it] themselves with their mobile phones or laptops. This is eco-friendly and also cost-saving,” Lei said.
Shi Maolin, a CPPCC delegate from Taiwan, says the measures are likely to be met with public approval. “But the key is to stick with that [austerity measures] in the future,” he said.
The Communist Party leadership promised that this year's meeting budgets would not exceed that of last year -- but the figures are kept secret, and no estimates are available.
What could add to this year's cost, however, is the funding for beefed-up security following the weekend attack by knife-wielding assailants in Kunming, Yunnan province, which left 33 dead and scores wounded.