Pre-Parliamentary Round-Up: Security High, and a Hurdler Missing

The opening of the annual session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC or Chinese parliament, for short) typically signals the start of speculation season for foreign media in Beijing. The first day of the session is nearly over now and already the political prognostications have started popping up all over the Internet. The top story so far, however, is a bit of hard news about Chinese megastar athlete Liu Xiang (刘翔), world record holder in the 110m hurdles, who has raised hackles by turning down delegate status in order to (gasp!) attend a track meet in Spain, from AFP:

“Liu Xiang is one of the outstanding delegates from the sports world, he was made a delegate to the political conference after consultations and everyone supported this decision,” conference spokesman Wu Jianmin told the paper.

“When the sports world has a delegate like him, it should not only be a responsibility, but also an honour.”

Liu’s handlers however said that he must run in Valencia and other upcoming European indoor track meets to maintain his training push toward the August Beijing Olympics, where he is one of China’s top medal hopes.

Both AFP and Reuters report tens of thousands of paramilitary police and other enforcers of social harmony had been posted around the city in advance of the meeting in what AFP described as “a dress rehearsal for the Olympic Games” complete with warnings to typical troublemakers to keep their mouths shut. For vox pop, the Reuters security story quotes a local merchant with the same name as the missing hurdler:

Grocer Liu Xiang, 33, like many Chinese, can only guess at what the fuss is all about. “I suppose there’s some meeting between the leaders,” Liu said, weighing a bag of mandarins at a market a few blocks east of the square. “Who knows what they talk about? How would I know? I’m just a common person.”

As for possible outcomes, Bloomberg cites CPPCC spokesman Wu Jianming as saying the party may try to appoint more non-communist ministers, while AP reports the possibility of major (but unspecified) changes to the family planning policy. Finally, while noting the heightened security environment, Reuters’ Chris Buckley finds reason to be optimistic about the possibility of political reform:

China’s leaders have shown no appetite for radical change that would challenge one-party rule, and with Beijing preparing for its showcase Olympic Games in August, they will be especially wary of unrest, likely locking away or isolating many dissidents.

But the Party Central Committee said after a meeting last week that some political reform was needed to cure misgovernance and social strains. And the national parliament is set to unify dozens of government ministries into several “super-ministries” and to promise parliament delegates a stronger say in policy.

Democracy advocates said they hope the international spotlight on the Games, and then the December anniversary of the 1978 meeting celebrated as launching Deng Xiaoping’s market reforms, will open room for even bolder demands.

“These voices (for political change) have never entirely stopped, but since early this year they have grown markedly stronger. They’ve been waiting for an opening,” said Liu Suli, owner of the All Sages bookstore in Beijing.

Part of the reason for all the hype: This year’s CPPCC gathering marks the 30th anniversary of the “Reform and Opening” (改革开放) policy.

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