China Postpones Important Political Event Amid COVID-19

Government needs to focus on containment . . .

The Chinese government announced today the postponement of the ‘Two Sessions,’ a parallel gathering of two separate national institutions – the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s legislature, and the Chinese People Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), China’s top political advisory body. The government said it was postponing the event, which was to take place in March, so it could focus on the containment of COVID-19.

What are the ‘Two Sessions’?

The ‘Two Sessions’ is an annual political event that takes place from early-to-mid March. Both the NPC and CPPCC comprise Party and non-Party elite groups – either government officials or successful entrepreneurs and professionals. The ‘Two Sessions,’ which is widely-covered in the state-controlled media, represents elite support for the Communist Party and government policies. Nevertheless, discussions at the ‘Two Sessions’ focus not only on elite interests, but also on ‘livelihood issues’ – social policies including health, education, and housing – that are related to the daily concerns of regular Chinese citizens. These high-profile discussions serve to highlight the regime’s benevolence and concern for the populace.

Why the postponement . . .

Postponing the event frees up time for central government bureaucracies to focus on containing the COVID-19 outbreak and also shields the government from critique. As a large number of delegates and members of the Two Sessions are from the medical sector, they would have likely publicly discussed COVID-19, possibly exposing government flaws in the handling of the outbreak as well as elite disagreements over the issue that may have played out in the media. Going ahead with the event might have also raised memories from 2003 when China’s central government publicly admitted that SARS was taking place only in April after the Two Sessions had ended. Or it may have also highlighted the fact that in January both the municipal and provincial leaders in Wuhan and Hubei Province downplayed the severity of the outbreak because lesser Two Sessions meetings were taking place at the municipal and provincial levels.