China to outline national priorities as Congress opens

China's President Xi Jinping (L) and Premier Li Keqiang arrive for the opening session of the China's People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 3, 2017

China's rubber-stamp legislature opens its annual session on Sunday with Premier Li Keqiang due to announce the government's 2017 growth target for the world's second largest economy and major policy priorities.

The National People's Congress (NPC) brings together thousands of politicians from across China, touted by the ruling Communist Party as proof that it answers to the people despite a monopoly on power.

Li delivers his annual work report at 9 am (0100 GMT) to delegates in Beijing's vast Great Hall of the People next to Tiananmen Square, the centre of the universe in Chinese politics.

Analysts expect Li to aim for economic growth of 6.5-7 percent, the same as the target set last year.

The economy ended up expanding 6.7 percent in 2016, its slowest pace in a quarter-century as China tries to pivot from hyper-fast growth based on investment and exports towards a steadier consumer-driven model.

The premier's lengthy address typically also broadcasts a slew of key national priorities and hot-button issues.

These may include pledges to address fears of a housing bubble, capital flight abroad and other economic risks, and persistent severe air pollution.

There may also be coded messages to new US President Donald Trump.

Trump has previously threatened to confront Beijing over its trade policies, and his administration has signalled opposition to the expanding Chinese presence in the South China Sea, though the US rhetoric has softened lately.

China-watchers will be looking during the session for clues ahead of this autumn's Communist Party Congress, an event held only every five years and which has far greater bearing on politics.

Since taking over in 2012, President Xi Jinping has consolidated power more rapidly than any leader in decades.

He is expected to unveil a leadership shuffle at the autumn gathering amid speculation it could contain hints that he intends to stay on beyond the traditional 10-year term.

The 10-day NPC kicks off with a splash of colour as delegates from China's dozens of ethnic minorities arrive in traditional dress, images meant to reinforce ethnic harmony despite tensions in some regions.

Authorities have shut down factories and other polluting activities in northern China to prevent the country's notorious smog from embarrassing delegates and, as every year, have tightened security nationwide.

Much of the session is marked by meeting after meeting of business-suited male delegates affirming pre-approved Communist Party talking points.

It closes with the premier's annual press conference -- the only time each year that foreign journalists are allowed to quiz an official in China's top inner circle, though questions are screened in advance.

The NPC session runs concurrently with that of a separate body, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), which opened Friday.

Though powerless, it draws interest as it includes celebrities such as film star Jackie Chan, basketball giant Yao Ming and some of China's richest corporate chieftains.