China postpones key political meetings because of virus

BEIJING (AP) — China announced yesterday it has postponed its most important political meetings of the year because of the outbreak of the new virus, a significant step for an authoritarian government that has always kept tight control over its political calendar.

The decision indicates the importance that President Xi Jinping places on the battle against the virus, which has killed more than 2,500 people and sickened more than 77,000 in mainland China.

The outbreak has posed one of the biggest political challenges to Xi’s administration since he took control of the ruling Communist Party in 2012. The annual meetings of the National People’s Congress and its chief advisory body usually begin about March 5 and run for more than two weeks, bringing thousands of delegates to Beijing for discussions, speeches and political ceremony.

The official Xinhua New Agency earlier noted that one-third of the 3,000 delegates are provincial and municipal-level cadres with important leadership roles working on the front line of the battle against the epidemic.

Xi has been wounded by the virus outbreak, but can minimise the damage by “moving aggressively to contain the damage and regain control by postponing” the meetings, said Director of the China Institute at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies Steve Tsang.