The 2024 Two Sessions began on March 4th with opening of the session for the CPPCC, while the NPC opened on March 5th. The show for 2024, however, left much to be desired with Xi Jinping planning for longevity of Party rule at the continued expense of China’s democratic centralism while continuing breaking from tradition in more aspects than one. This year’s Two Sessions were first looks of what the future of NPC deliberations will look like, with the government-led event also becoming one that will focus on all things Party.

The link between proverbs and Chinese culture is an integral one, governing approaches to society, wealth — and politics. The proverbial saying of yì nián zhī jì zàiyú chūn (, “A year's plan starts with spring”) influences and is put to practice with the Two Sessions –one of the most important political events of the Chinese governmental calendar, wherein economic, developmental, legislative and foreign policy plans are discussed, announced and set. In the month of March —which marks the coming of the spring season— the plan for the year is put into place via the simultaneous annual meetings of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and the National People’s Congress (NPC) —termed together as the Two Sessions.

The 2024 Two Sessions began on March 4th with opening of the session for the CPPCC, while the NPC opened on March 5th. However, even with roughly 3000 NPC delegates appearing at the Great Hall of the People for the deliberations, the fact remains that the week-long event is largely a political performance. Despite claims of  drafting policies for discussion pooled from “broad public opinions, no actual debate takes place in parliament as final decisions have already been approved behind closed doors prior to the sessions. While the vote was still carefully watched as a vector to assess Xi’s power over the delegates, approval decisions on the GWR among other legislation and national targets were made in the February Politburo meeting, presided over by Xi. Policies are not open for debate in the ‘socialist democracy’ of China’s rubberstamp parliament, but messages delivered are still analysed for any changes in the policy line of the government to assess if the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) focus has, even remotely, shifted. The show for 2024, however, left much to be desired with Xi Jinping planning for longevity of Party rule at the continued expense of China’s democratic centralism while continuing breaking from tradition in more aspects than one.

The Premier Dilemma

As expected, Chinese Premier Li Qiang’s first-ever Government Work Report (GWR) is largely deriving from his predecessor Li Keqiang’s 2023 report, showing both a continuity in policy as well as restriction on Li Qiang’s ability to broaden the same. Furthermore, the report was delivered in under an hour, making it one of the shortest reports read out since 2001. Major highlights of the report were largely predictable; this includes the setting of the annual gross domestic product growth target of around 5% for 2024, which is similar to the one set last year. China's unemployment problem continues to be a major focus, with a goal of producing 12 million new jobs in cities by 2024. In 2024, a total of 3.9 trillion yuan (approximately $542 billion) in special-purpose bonds will be issued for local governments, an increase of over 100 billion over the previous year, in an effort to address the nation's grave local government debt crisis. In order to carry out national strategies, ultra-long special treasury bonds will also be issued. It also promised that all limitations of market access on foreign investment in China's manufacturing will be lifted, while attempts will be made to reduce limits on market access in the services sector as well. The goal is to make China a premier destination for global investment, with a particular emphasis on BRI collaborations. Other key policy announcements have focused on developing new quality productive forces at faster pace, production and supply of agricultural products and low-carbon development.

However, announcement of policies does little to quell doubts regarding China’s tackling of its economic woes, and the cancelling of the Chinese Premier’s customary news conference normally held at the conclusion of the Two Sessions leaves explanations unaccounted for. This marks the first time the press conference has been cancelled since 1993 when it became a custom. Furthermore, the practice will not be restarted for the period of the present NPC’s term. Such a move sends certain signals, first of which is an evasiveness to address scrutiny of the ‘business as usual’ tone Li’s speech has tried to take. Amidst a real estate crisis that is threatening millions of household savings, signs of deflation, foreign investments reaching a three decade low, unemployment, lack of consumer confidence and local government debt to name a few, the absence of a press conference has shown an under confidence in defending the economic policy line.

Another tangent via which to view this move is lack of trust by Xi in Li Qiang to be able to field such questions. A case for calling this a ‘rivalry’, similar to the one Xi was harkened to have shared with Li Keqiang, is far-fetched. Li Qiang is nowhere near as politically powerful as Li Keqiang was, and hence in no place to pushback against the General Secretary. Post the 19th National Party Congress, powers of the State Council have considerably and consistently been reduced. At the current Two Sessions, the passing of an amendment (which marks the first change to the Council’s law since 1982) to the Organic Law of the State Council has introduced clauses stating the Council will follow the CPC’s instructions and ideology, has further re-emphasized its new role as a mere implementer of the Party’s decisions. The Premier’s role hence, expectedly, stands adjusted.

First Look of ‘Party’s Council’

By not allowing the Premier a press conference, Xi is only doubling down on bringing the State Council (and by extension, the government) even more under Party control. Limiting the powers of the State Council has been a constant effort under Xi Jinping; after spending years making institutions under the Council subordinate to Party institutions, Xi has now directly focused attention on limiting the role, powers and importance of the Premier directly. While this goal was attempted at the time of Li Keqiang as well, Xi was not fully successful owing to the fact that Li Keqiang was held in great esteem amongst both people and Party officials, had the support of the Tuanpai faction and was a seasoned politician.  As the 20th Party Congress marked the end of factional politics in China with the Xi faction occupying every prominent position, Li Qiang’s ability to digress or oppose Xi’s attempts at reducing the power of the State Council hold no power.

The Premier’s press conference is one of the few times a senior Chinese official answers questions from international and national media. Although the questions are pre-approved, they nonetheless provide a high-ranking official's direct input on future policy orientations to the general public, allowing a forum for China to express its diplomatic goals, both with regard to the questions chosen and the selection of national media houses that ask them.

Here, the Party’s focus on further de-linking economic agenda setting from the NPC (read, State Council and the Premier) must also be re-emphasized. A key reason why the Two Sessions were expected to be largely an unimpressive affair was the fact that they are taking place without the Third Plenum having been held. The Third Plenum (plenary session) of every CPC Central Committee usually makes important economic policy decisions. The Third Plenum of the current 20th Central Committee was expected to take place by October 2023 thus the fact that it has not happened yet is unprecedented. Xi has chosen to establish an economic strategy for the nation outside the purview of the People's Congress by refusing to hold the Plenum prior to the Two Sessions —also closing such policy to any ‘debate’ or evaluation within the NPC.  It also indicates that the Party (read Xi) is not yet ready for much needed structural reforms at the expense of short-term economic downturn. Such a delay has left very little policy space for the government to act on, leading to a disappointing work report. Essentially, the absence of the Plenum means that no clear economic agenda has been determined, and the Premier therein will be unable to formulate or carry out policy initiatives without it.

It is also important to note that these press meetings increase the premier's visibility abroad compared to other Chinese officials who seldom interact with foreign media. Such a move builds a stronger platform for the Premier to undertake international state trips; with Li Qiang, however, Xi seems keen to limit international interactions. Li Qiang’s profile, in comparison to Li Keqiang’s, has been kept controlled and domestic focused. The current Premier appears to have minor say in foreign affairs or foreign trips, with his most high-profile one until now being the trip to India for the G-20. By not allowing the press conference, Xi also seems to have ensured that no questions beyond economy would have the potential of being asked to the Premier. Furthermore, Li Qiang, who notices closer bonhomie forming between Xi Jinping and Cai Qi, might be keen on signalling political loyalty (biaotai) and be more amiable to erosion of the Premier’s powers if that means staying close to Xi and not being purged. There has been a power tussle between Cai Qi and Li Qiang, which Cai has been leading owing to his handling of the Hebei floods that allowed him to save Xi’s beloved Xiongan New Area project. The biaotai by Li Qiang at the NPC hence allows him an attempt at redeeming his power as the number 2 under Xi. On the other hand, the move by Xi could also be read as continued erosion of his faith in Li Qiang.

As demonstrated by the modifications to the Organic Law as well as reduction of the Premier’s role, these are moves in the last of phases in redefining the relationship between the party and the state. In a battle between the Party constitution and the State's legislation, the Party and Xi are set to always prevail. This year’s Two Sessions were first looks of what the future of NPC deliberations will look like, with the government-led event also becoming one that will focus on all things Party.



Eerishika Pankaj is the Director of New Delhi based think-tank, the Organisation for Research on China and Asia (ORCA), which focuses on decoding domestic Chinese politics and its impact on Beijing’s foreign policymaking. She is also an Editorial and Research Assistant to the Series Editor for Routledge Series on Think Asia; a Young Leader in the 2020 cohort of the Pacific Forum’s Young Leaders Program; a Commissioning Editor with E-International Relations for their Political Economy section; a Member of the Indo-Pacific Circle and a Council Member of the WICCI’s India-EU Business Council. Primarily a China and East Asia scholar, her research focuses on Chinese elite/party politics, the India-China border, water and power politics in the Himalayas, Tibet, the Indo-Pacific and India’s bilateral ties with Europe and Asia. In 2023, she was selected as an Emerging Quad Think Tank Leader, an initiative of the U.S. State Department’s Leaders Lead on Demand program. She co-edited the ORCAxISDP Special Issue "The Dalai Lama's Succession: Strategic Realities of the Tibet Question" and edited the ORCAxWICCI Special Issue "Building the Future of EU-India Strategic Partnership: Between Trade, Technology, Security and China." She can be reached on

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