China to Postpone Annual NPC Session and Restrict Wide Animals Trade & Consumption (Updated)

UPDATE (Feb. 18, 2019): We have updated our earlier analysis of the possible new start date of this year’s NPC session.

Editor’s Note: Some wording in this blogpost has been changed since its original publication.

The Council of Chairpersons decided on Monday, February 17 to convene the NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC) for a one-day session on February 24. Two main items would be on the session’s agenda and both relate to the still-ongoing novel coronavirus outbreak.

First, the NPCSC is expected to adopt a decision postponing this year’s NPC annual session, which was originally scheduled to convene on March 5. The NPC has convened every annual session on that day since 1995 (except that in 1997 it met on March 1). This year’s delay is thus a first since March 5 has been fixed as the opening date, and underscores the gravity of the coronavirus epidemic. According to Xinhua, the session is delayed so that NPC delegates (over a third of whom are government officials) would stay “on the front line” of epidemic control efforts.

Although it is still unclear whether the NPCSC will decide on a new date for the NPC session next Monday, we think the NPC’s Rules of Procedure [全国人民代表大会议事规则] requires it to do so. Those Rules (which have the status of a national law) include two relevant requirements:

  1. the NPC must convene its annual session by the end of March each year (see art. 2); and
  2. the NPCSC must notify the NPC delegates of an NPC session’s opening date at least a month in advance (art. 6, para. 1).

Together, these two provisions require that the NPCSC decide on the NPC’s opening date no later than the end of February every year. Thus, the NPCSC must do so next Monday (February 24), for it is unlikely that it would meet again by the end of the month. And if the NPCSC makes the decision on February 24, it cannot convene the NPC earlier than March 24 under requirement #2 (but no later than March 31 under requirement #1). Thus, by operation of the NPC’s own procedural rules, this year’s NPC session must be rescheduled to start during the seven-day period of March 24 to March 31. We thank the reader who brought article 6 to our attention.

Second, the NPCSC will also adopt a Decision on Prohibiting Illegal Trade in Wild Animals, Uprooting the Pernicious Habit of Eating Wild Animals, and Earnestly Safeguarding the People’s Lives, Health & Safety [关于禁止非法野生动物交易、革除滥食野生动物陋习、切实保障人民群众生命健康安全的决定]. Based on this tentative title, the decision is likely to do three things: further restricting trade in wild animals (beyond rare and endangered ones), imposing a ban on eating wild animals (likely near-total, given the title’s wording), and giving the government additional tools to control the epidemic. We expect this decision to be a stopgap measure and that its provisions soon codified, as the NPCSC Legislative Affairs Commission disclosed last week that revisions to the Wild Animals Protection Law [野生动物保护法] would be added to the NPCSC’s 2020 legislative plan.

We expect the NPCSC to approve both decisions next Monday, February 24.

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