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China mulls delaying annual parliament meeting amid virus spread: Sources

Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) and Premier Li Keqiang (R) attend the closing ceremony of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 15, 2019. Photo: Kyodo. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

BEIJING, Feb 14, 2020, Kyodo. China is considering postponing the annual meeting of its national parliament scheduled in early March, as the country grapples with the outbreak of a new pneumonia-causing coronavirus, sources close to the matter said Thursday, Kyodo News reported.

Every year, the National People’s Congress takes place for around 10 days from March 5 at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, where around 3,000 delegates gather from across the nation to discuss and endorse key policies for the coming year.

But amid the spread of the new virus, the government is leaning towards postponing the meeting to late March or even later, numerous officials told Kyodo News. A final decision will be made based on when the outbreak reaches its peak, they said.

“It’s difficult to hold the meeting as planned,” a Communist Party official said. “The date remains undecided.”

According to diplomatic sources, the Chinese government has told diplomats in Beijing, “the date is yet to be finalized.”

Local-level meetings, which are supposed to be held prior to the country’s national parliament, have been delayed successively in major cities such as Guangdong and Qingdao.

The deadly coronavirus is believed to have originated late last year in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, known as a major business and transportation hub with a population of some 11 million. It has so far infected nearly 60,000 and killed over 1,300 in China.

The National People’s Congress has convened March 5 every year since 1998. Even in 2003, when a virus causing severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, raged in China, the annual session of the parliament was summoned.

But according to the sources, there is a growing concern within the party that a gathering of officials in Beijing from all across China would increase the risk of infection.

Many are calling for a postponement while officials scramble to contain the spread of the virus.

Fears are growing that the world’s second-largest economy, which has already faced downward pressure against the backdrop of a tit-for-tat tariff trade war with the United States, will decelerate further in the aftermath of the virus spread.

The postponement of the congress would make it more difficult for the leadership of Chinese President Xi Jinping to swiftly implement measures to shore up the country’s lackluster economy and pushback planned state visits, some foreign affairs experts say.

A preparatory meeting for Xi’s upcoming state visit to Japan scheduled for later this month in Beijing has been pushed back as China focuses on containing the epidemic.

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