The annual session of China’s parliament was supposed to have been a triumphant occasion for President Xi Jinping, marking the halfway point of his second term with the path clear for him to begin an unprecedented third term in 2023.

Instead on Friday he will take centre stage at the Great Hall of the People in the midst of a global pandemic that erupted in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, knowing that his government now faces the most daunting set of economic and financial challenges since Deng Xiaoping began to steer the country out of the wreckage of the cultural revolution in 1979...

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