Even without the drama of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, this year’s “ two sessions ”, or annual meetings of China’s political advisory and legislative bodies, would have reflected extraordinary times. Covid-19 would have ensured that, after delaying the 2020 meetings by two months and shaping the economic agenda for last year’s meetings. Maintaining growth in the economy remains the abiding concern. But two things set this year’s two sessions beginning today apart. One is that they set the tone for the 20th party congress in the autumn and a major shake-up of the top leadership. The other is the attack launched by Russia on Ukraine, both diplomatic partners. The latter event will overshadow the meetings of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and the National People’s Congress. Beijing may have taken a very neutral stance, but in China the issue is widely debated. It is not just a question of whether to support one side or the other, but how it affects China’s economy and foreign policy of non-interference in the affairs of other nations. Delegates can be expected to debate it behind closed doors. On the economy, two headline figures will shape debate. One is last year’s overall growth rate of 8.1 per cent after the government set a cautious target of “above 6 per cent”. The second is fourth-quarter GDP growth of only 4 per cent, as a Covid-19 resurgence and a real estate downturn combined to restrain economic momentum. ‘China will not ride to the rescue’ even as Russia trade defies sanctions Hopefully signs of recovery will be reflected in the current quarter’s figures. But the Russia-Ukraine conflict and Western sanctions will do nothing for global business and consumer confidence. No one is under any illusions that this year will not be even more challenging. China still needs to maintain a robust growth rate, especially in the private sector, to create jobs and drive domestic consumption. The ageing of Chinese society, with all its profound social and economic implications, has to be near the top of the agenda. Already delegates are talking about how to lessen the social impact and encourage young couples to have children. This is not to overlook Covid-19, with its potential for mutation and punishment of lax vigilance. If it cannot be eradicated, it remains to be seen how China might adapt its dynamic zero-Covid approach.