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Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang arrive for the closing session of the National People's Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 11.CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/Reuters

China ended the annual session of its rubber-stamp legislature Friday against the backdrop of Beijing’s controversial position on Russia’s war in Ukraine and a COVID-19 surge.

Almost all legislative work is handled not by the 3,000-member National People’s Congress but by its much smaller Standing Committee. Still, the week-long session was a sounding board for some issues of public concern – this year including the trafficking of women and children – and a platform for the Communist leadership to broadcast their priorities.

Premier Li Keqiang set an ambitious goal of 5.5 per cent economic growth for the year, while the defense budget received a 7.1 per cent boost.

Russia’s war in Ukraine was not openly discussed at the meeting, but China has largely backed Russia and Chinese officials and state media have parroted Russian talking points while claiming to be neutral and defending national sovereignty above all else. It has echoes in Beijing’s approach to Taiwan – the self-governing island democracy China claims as its own territory, to be annexed by force if necessary.

A spokesperson for the People’s Liberation Army’s NPC delegation this week blamed “separatist activities and collusion with external forces” for tensions with Taiwan and said the more the “United States and Japan make waves on the Taiwan question, the tougher actions we will take.”

The White House and U.S. State Department this week accused Beijing of aiding Russian disinformation efforts, including false claims over U.S. biological weapons labs and chemical weapons development in Ukraine.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian on Wednesday said China “urges the U.S. to disclose details on U.S.-financed biological labs in Ukraine, including types of viruses stored and research has been conducted.”

U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price called the allegations “outright lies” invented by Russia “in an attempt to justify its own horrific actions in Ukraine.”

This week, China has seen the numbers of domestic COVID-19 cases shoot to highs that are small compared to much of the world but are unseen in China since the original outbreak two years ago. On Friday, 397 cases of local transmission were reported nationwide.

The effects of the pandemic on consumer confidence, supply chains and shipping – along with the massive disruption caused by Ukraine war – pose significant challenges to China in reaching its economic growth target.

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