Strong opinions ensure plenty of heated debates
By Wu Jiao (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-03-19 07:28
I passed a hotel the other day that was housing CPPCC members and was surprised to find that the conference room reserved for less well-known members was crowded, while the one for VIP members was relatively empty.
The situation bucked all the rules of news. But a kindhearted fellow journalist explained the scene to me: Two people in the first room had previously been engaged in a heated debate, and the reporters there were apparently waiting for the fight to continue.
The scene became familiar to me as the two-week-long sessions of the NPC and CPPCC went on. Heated debates flared up at numerous points during the two gatherings.
Firmly held opinions emerged from every group discussion and delegation, which was enough to keep the news calendar stocked.
The debates - which most members of the public would have been happy to join - touched on topics ranging from proposals that could benefit the rich to big financial outlays for cultural projects.
In one example, Zhang Yin, one of the richest women in China and a CPPCC member, set off a storm at the beginning of the two sessions with her "pro-rich" proposals.
She wanted to amend the open-ended contracts that are automatically granted to employees after more than 10 years on the job, as stipulated in the newly implemented Labor Contract Law. She also called for a reduction in the personal income tax high-income earners pay to help China avoid a brain drain, and she advocated a five-to-seven-year suspension of the duty levied on equipment imports aimed at helping businesses meet the country's environmental and energy-saving goals.
Zhang's proposals were immediately derided by CPPCC members who felt she was only looking out for her socioeconomic stratum.
"She is rich and runs a labor-intensive, polluting business that needs to import pollution-reducing equipment," Shi Dingguo, another political adviser said.
"She is speaking for herself and people like her Yet being a CPPCC National Committee member, she should speak not only for herself, but also for the people."
Reading about the debate, it occurred to me that the three newly elected migrant worker representatives had also voiced their own concerns during countless interviews, yet no one had criticized them for speaking only for people in their situation.
It also struck me that a mature political system should allow for every party to exchange opinions, and that it is understandable that members would raise those topics with which they were most familiar.
The different responses to Zhang and the migrant workers left me bewildered for some time.
I looked at it this way: The country's 200 million migrant workers have long been disadvantaged and lacked representation in the top legislature.
While efforts have been made to ensure that every group has the chance to voice its opinion in the NPC or CPPCC, there is also the question of whether each group has equal representation.
With 200 people looking after private business interests and just three for all of the country's migrant workers, it would be hard to argue the game is fair.
Actually, the debate stunned me a bit at first. In previous years, group discussions were described as being "uniting and peaceful".
Such candor is rare in a country where tranquility and obedience are considered traditional virtues.
But the strength of the debate made me feel as though speaking loudly and holding one's ground had become typical during this year's two sessions.
As the curtains closed on the event, one could not shake the feeling that such debates could spread to newspapers and the airwaves in the following days. It is hoped all of the quarreling leads to effective new regulations and amendments to those that are no longer relevant.
(China Daily 03/19/2008 page6)