BEIJING - As early spring smog descended on Beijing on Thursday (March 4), Tiananmen Square, the political heart of the city, was under a massive security lockdown.
Some 2,100 delegates of the country's top advisory body streamed into the Great Hall of the People for the opening ceremony of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), one of the "two sessions" that make up China's annual parliamentary season.
The other body, the lawmaking National People's Congress will begin its session on Friday (March 5) and will introduce reforms to Hong Kong's electoral system that will give Beijing greater control over the semi-autonomous city.
In an early signal that changes are afoot, CPPCC chairman Wang Yang said at its opening ceremony that the top political advisory body will "resolutely support the principle that Hong Kong should be governed by patriots".
Media reports have pointed to the likelihood of changes to the territory's legislature and an electoral committee tasked to select its chief executive, as Beijing puts a squeeze on pro-democrats on the island.
The Hong Kong government had earlier said it was looking at implementing the principle of "patriots ruling Hong Kong" and improving the electoral system.
Former Hong Kong chief Leung Chun Ying, who has hinted at running for the post again next year, said in an interview on Thursday with Chinese state media CGTN that unpatriotic people are those who have "dashed off" to the US "asking the US government to sanction Hong Kong and the whole of China".
"In many other countries in the world, these actions could be described as treasonous. These are not patriots and they should not form part of the governing body of Hong Kong," he said.
Jailed high-profile pro-democracy leader Joshua Wong had previously visited Washington and urged lawmakers to support legislation that would require the US to assess Hong Kong's special status annually, and allow it to sanction leaders who undermine the city's democracy.
CPPCC delegates, who come from other minor political parties, social organisations, the business sector and academia, will spend the coming week discussing issues and making proposals from education, health, international relations to the economy.
Among the items on the agenda this year is a Covid-19 vaccine passport that could help restore travel.
Mr Zhu Zhengfu, a delegate of the CPPCC, told the English-language newspaper of the Communist Party, The Global Times, that he is urging the authorities to issue visas to those who have been vaccinated to travel to low-risk countries.
He said visitors to China should also be exempted from serving a 14-day quarantine period if they produce a vaccine passport and a negative Covid-19 test result.
Other items on the agenda for the CPPCC include a proposal to abolish homework in primary school in favour of more moral and physical education and a lowering of China's legal marriage age to 18 from 22 for males and 20 for females to boost the country's flagging birth rate.
Last year, the CPPCC received nearly 6,000 proposals.