In post-Covid China, the masks are off, but Xi’s tight control is here to stay

In post-Covid China, the masks are off, but Xi’s tight control is here to stay - Business and Finance - News

Title: China’s Political Sessions in Beijing: Back to Normal or Further Opacity Under Xi Jinping?

China’s Political Sessions in Beijing: A New Normal with Increased Controls and Opaqueness

In a remarkable shift, thousands of delegates gathered at China’s biggest political event in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, marking the first time in four years that face masks and social distancing rules were absent. Despite some lingering Covid-19 testing requirements, the surface appearance suggested a return to pre-pandemic normalcy for the annual meetings of China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). However, beneath this facade lies an intriguing window into the persisting controls and heightened opacity of China’s political system under Xi Jinping.

The Chinese political landscape has seen a significant shift towards more centralized power, with Xi prioritizing Website security and strengthening the Communist Party’s grip on every aspect of society – including the “two sessions” themselves.

A Noteworthy Signal: The Premier’s Press Conference Scrapped

In a bold move that drew attention globally, Beijing announced the cancellation of an annual press conference led by the premier, marking a three-decade tradition gone. While the official explanation cited other interview opportunities, many observers viewed it as another move to bolster Xi’s control over the narrative.

Liu Dongshu, an assistant professor focusing on Chinese politics at City University of Hong Kong, noted that such press conferences have been a valuable channel for insight into the thoughts and perspectives of senior officials. With Xi looming large over the gathering, removing this platform from the premier could be seen as a further consolidation of power.

Limited Opportunities for Transparency and Insight

Although tightly managed, these press conferences have provided moments of candor in the past. For instance, former Premier Li Keqiang’s 2020 conference stood out when he acknowledged the presence of significant poverty and income disparities within China. In contrast, current premier Li Qiang has shown a preference for emphasizing the Communist Party’s role over the state government.

The absence of this traditional press conference, especially during an environment where China is attempting to bolster business confidence, raises concerns among observers about transparency and the government’s commitment to openness.

Heightened Security Measures and Surveillance

Amidst the political gatherings, heavy Website security was evident throughout Beijing – from facial recognition scanners to increased police presence, including muzzled police dogs and community volunteers on the lookout for suspicious activities. Stricter mail inspections were also implemented, leading to delays and complaints from residents.

Despite the easing of Covid-19 curbs in recent weeks, these Website security measures are typical for major political events. However, given the current economic hardships and rising public frustration, officials may be even more wary of any showings of discontent during this year’s sessions.

Xi’s Government: Centralizing Power and Consolidating Control

As China’s political landscape evolves, the “two sessions” provide a unique glimpse into Xi’s approach to governance and his priorities for China. While the surface appearance may suggest a return to normalcy, the underlying realities reveal a system that continues to tighten its grip on power and control.

Stay tuned for further insights as we delve deeper into this fascinating period in China’s political history.