THE last major political set-piece before China's once-a-decade leadership transition kicks off today, with close to 3000 of China's political elite converging in Beijing for the meeting of the country's highest state body.
Outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao will hand down a government work report, along with the year's budget, at the meeting of the National People's Congress. Analysts expect Mr Wen to set an economic growth target lower than the long-standing annual goal of 8 per cent, showing a willingness to accept slower growth while addressing structural issues within China's economy.
Focus will also be on any hint Mr Wen gives on China's role in helping lift the global economy out of its current malaise, with the euro zone in particular weighed by debt problems. ''We stand ready to work with the rest of the international community to offset the impact of the financial crisis,'' congress spokesman and former foreign minister Li Zhaoxing said yesterday.
The NPC is running concurrently with the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, known together as the lianghui or ''two sessions''.
The annual meetings offer local reporters what is often their only glimpse of - and opportunity to put questions to - some of the most senior figures running the country.
Much of the attention this year will be on two provincial party chiefs, both vying for a spot on the nine-man Politburo Standing Committee.
Bo Xilai, the high-profile party chief of south-western mega-city Chongqing, had been seen as a favourite after a series of major organised-crime busts under his watch.
But he has been rocked by a dramatic scandal in January, where after a falling-out with his former police chief and vice-mayor Wang Lijun, Mr Wang fled Chongqing for the US consulate at Chengdu, in Sichuan province, armed with information of Mr Bo's alleged corruption. Mr Wang has not been seen in public since.
For the first time, Chinese authorities have confirmed Mr Wang is being investigated and that he will not be attending the congress. Mr Bo has not commented on the incidents in person, but his office has said Mr Wang is on stress-related leave.
Attending the opening ceremony of the CPPCC on Saturday, Mr Bo appeared relaxed and gave a short wave to the crowd as he took his usual seat on stage.
Wang Yang, of Guangdong province, has been making headlines for different reasons. He has been praised for his handling of the high-profile village revolt in Wukan, choosing to negotiate with village leaders rather than crush the dissent with force. The village successfully staged an election last weekend. ''This is a major event in the political life of the Chinese people and an important practice for people to really be the masters of their own country,'' Li Zhaoxing said.
But the membership of the NPC is still largely controlled by China's Communist Party, meaning it has failed to move away from its reputation as a largely rubber-stamp government.