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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 March 2007, 17:12 GMT
China MPs exercise rubber stamp
James Reynolds
BBC News, Beijing

It may be surprising to learn that China has a parliament. This country is, after all, a one-party state - and there are no general elections.

Tibetan deputies leaving
Thousands of delegates have gathered in Beijing
Still, almost 3000 delegates make up the ranks of China's legislature. Members are chosen from China's different regions.

Once a year - for just two weeks - they come to the Great Hall of the People in Beijing to discuss (and then inevitably approve) the Communist Party's latest set of proposals.

During these two weeks, Tiananmen Square outside becomes the world's most orderly coach park.

Rows and rows of buses are parked symmetrically, almost mathematically, inside the square. Every morning they collect the members of parliament from their hotels and drop them off at the Great Hall for another round of sessions and speeches.

Apart from the buses, the square is almost empty - the police have sealed it off and ordinary people aren't allowed in.

The authorities want no interruptions. In recent days, the police have rounded up those most desperate to get the parliament's attention - petitioners who want politicians to hear their grievances.

Tea room

Guard in Tiananmen Square
Security guards are ready for any eventuality

There is one small sign that the police are ready for trouble. A single officer stands guard next to a fire extinguisher - ready to be used against any protesters who manage to get through the cordons and set themselves on fire (it's happened in the past.)

Inside, the Great Hall of the People is covered in red carpets. On the ground floor, some members of parliament sit in a tea room watching a live TV feed of the latest session.

If you head upstairs to the first floor, you'll come across a wooden door guarded by two men wearing dinner jackets and white gloves. They take a quick look at your credentials and then they let you through an orange felt curtain.

Once you're past the curtain, you're inside the upper deck of the main chamber - looking down on the parliamentary session below.

On this particular afternoon, the topic is the Supreme Court. One delegate addresses the parliament from the podium.

Members sit at their desks, following his speech which is printed out for them - word for word. When he turns his page, the members turn their pages - the swooshing sound echoes across the chamber.

deputies reading scripted speeches
Members follow the scripted speeches which are printed out
Everything here is scripted. Speeches have to be approved in advance. When you're in the chamber, you immediately notice how quiet it is.

There are no interruptions from the members of parliament - no barracking or heckling. In this main chamber no-one asks any questions. Debate is left to discussion groups in smaller rooms.

Just before five in the afternoon the final speaker makes a bow and the session comes to an end. Members queue up to leave the Great Hall and get back on their buses.

You get a good look at them as they file out of the building. Most are middle-aged men in dark suits. Some are military officers in uniform. A few stand out in traditional costume - they represent some of China's many ethnic minorities.

At the end of the week the members of parliament will vote on the Communist Party's latest set of laws and proposals - including important new legislation on income tax and property.

But there's little suspense. In the half century that this parliament has been around, it has yet to reject a single party proposal.





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