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Coronavirus-hit China postpones parliament for first time in decades


CHINA decided on Monday to postpone its annual parliament session for the first time since the Cultural Revolution, as the country battles the coronavirus outbreak.

Top Communist Party leaders including President Xi Jinping attend each year's gathering of the National People's Congress, which rubber-stamps bills, budgets and personnel moves already decided by the party.

But much of China has ground to a halt in the battle against an outbreak that has infected nearly 80,000 people and claimed more than 2,500 lives.

The NPC's Standing Committee met on Monday and decided it was "appropriate to postpone" the parliament, which was due to start on March 5, according to state broadcaster CCTV. It will decide later on a new date.

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Many top officials who would normally attend the meeting are consumed with tackling the virus in their home regions.

And Beijing has imposed quarantine measures on those arriving from other parts of China, a practical challenge for a gathering of nearly 3,000 delegates.

Holding the event would have meant bad optics with China's leaders arriving in face masks for a meeting that is highly stage-managed to present the image of a Communist Party in perfect control of the country.

Ling Li, a lecturer on Chinese politics at the University of Vienna, said in advance of the announcement that maintaining the NPC conference next month would be "unreasonable." "(It would) signal a desperate effort of the authorities to keep up the appearance of political normality, which is not there," she said.

Zang Tiewei, a spokesman for the legislative affairs commission of the NPC Standing Committee, told state-controlled news agency Xinhua last week that delaying the yearly political event was "necessary" to ensure "attention is focused on the prevention and control of the epidemic."

Dorothy Solinger, an expert on Chinese politics at the University of California at Irvine, said to postpone would be a "smart move".

She said the government's message is: "We are putting all our effort into combatting the virus. We don't have the time to hold these meetings now." The virus also deeply impacts some of the session's most hallowed rituals, she said. "How could they present the mandatory NPC upbeat accounts of the progress and positive prognosis of the economy and other achievements in the midst of such uncertainty as they're facing now?" AFP

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