China's rubber-stamp parliament is set to clear the way for long-term rule by President Xi Jinping as well as the rapid integration of former European colonies Macau and Hong Kong. Xi could become the first leader to serve more than two five-year terms since the late Mao Zedong led the nation from 1949 to 1976. Nearly 3,000 delegates that comprise the National People's Congress
(NPC) began a historic gathering on March 5. They will meet with the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body of about 2,000 members. State media have touted a "new mission for a new era" that includes incorporating "Xi Jinping Thought" into the communist giant's constitution. This effectively enshrines his agenda as law. William Nee, a China researcher at Amnesty International, notes that a decade ago lively so-called "two sessions" gatherings sparked wider debate in society. "This time it feels different and completely controlled," Nee said, adding that Xi would dominate. When NPC secretary-general Wang Chen read out constitutional changes to remove term limits, the audience applauded. "This sort of flattery and adulation of just one Communist Party cadre would have been unthinkable just five years ago," Nee said. Reporters will be allowed to witness the March 11 NPC vote to allow Xi to serve as leader after his second term expires in 2023. However, in China's opaque political domain there is no way for outsiders to know in advance for certain if Xi will stay in power for a third term or more. There has already been some public criticism of the term limits being ditched. Meanwhile, China has flexed the muscles of its armed forces by announcing an 8 percent increase in military spending to more than 1.1 trillion yuan (US$170 billion). And Chinese Premier Li Keqiang reiterated a longstanding warning to Taiwanese nationalists that any formal declaration of independence would not be tolerated. Li also set an economic growth target of 6.5 percent along with 800 billion yuan (US$127 billion) in tax cuts. China achieved a 6.9 percent growth target in 2017. The NPC announced it would accelerate development of what the Chinese government calls the Greater Bay Area. This threatens Hong Kong and Macau
with erosion of their constitutional protections of human rights and freedoms.
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The NPC will also endorse the establishment of a national commission to combat corruption in public authorities and institutions, including those outside the Communist Party. Xi's corruption drive
has already seen some 1.5 million officials punished. The new disciplinary body, which will cover state-owned enterprises, schools and hospitals, will strengthen Xi's hold on power. NPC delegates from across China show loyalty by endorsing decisions already made by the Communist Party's core leadership. The "two sessions" meetings will last for two weeks, with the NPC on March 17 announcing who will be the largely ceremonial vice-president.