By Laurie Chen
BEIJING (Reuters) – Tencent Holdings founder Pony Ma and others from China’s crackdown-hit internet sector will be absent from this year’s parliamentary sessions, as Beijing boosts representation from the tech hardware sector, delegate lists show.
Nearly 3,000 members of the National People’s Congress (NPC) will gather in Beijing on Sunday for its first meeting since Xi Jinping secured a norm-breaking third leadership term at a congress of the ruling Communist Party last October.
The makeup of the nation’s top legislative body, mostly local government officials but also representatives from other sectors, signals who lies in Beijing’s good graces, although the ultimate barometer of power remains the ruling Communist Party’s 205-member Central Committee.
This year, a new crop of representatives from the tech hardware sector appeared on delegate name lists for the first time, a sign of Beijing’s changing priorities as it looks to bolster its capabilities as Washington cuts off access to cutting edge technology.
Pony Ma is absent from this year’s list after previously serving two five-year terms. The chief executive of China’s most valuable company has kept a low profile in recent years while rival tech entrepreneurs were targeted by a wide-ranging state crackdown on internet firms and as Xi urged greater scrutiny of the ultra-wealthy.
Tencent did not provide an immediate comment.
Other former darlings of China’s internet scene including Alibaba’s Jack Ma, NetEase founder William Lei Ding and Wang Xiaochuan, founder of search engine Sogou, were also absent from the delegate list of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) after previous inclusion.
However, lower-profile executives from Alibaba and e-commerce giant JD Group are delegates to the CPPCC, a largely ceremonial political advisory body that meets around the same time as the NPC.
Newcomers to the events include representatives from chip firms Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC), state-backed Hua Hong Semiconductor Ltd, Shandong Youyan Semiconductor Materials Co. in the NPC and Cambricon Techologies Corp in the CPPCC.
Other new NPC delegates come from robotics, laser, aerospace and aeronautics firms.
“The new line-up of the two sessions seems to reveal Beijing’s clear priority to strengthen its technological capacity to achieve self-sufficiency and stay competitive with the United States,” said Angela Zhang, director of the Center for Chinese Law at the University of Hong Kong.
“In the current geopolitical climate, consumer tech businesses are eclipsed by those companies that produce hardcore technologies,” she said.
Delegates for the NPC and CPPCC are chosen every five years by the Communist Party and have the option to resign.
Some veteran tech industry delegates will continue to serve under new five-year terms on the CPPCC including Lei Jun, founder of phone manufacturer Xiaomi, and Zhou Hongyi, CEO of cybersecurity firm Qihoo360.
Liu Qingfeng, head of U.S.-sanctioned artificial intelligence firm iFlyTek, was also selected for another NPC term.
In a speech last month, Xi called for scientific and technological self-reliance, amid growing export curbs on advanced technology, mainly from the United States.
Some celebrity CPPCC delegates did not reappear on this year’s list, such as Hong Kong action star Jackie Chan, film director Feng Xiaogang and state television anchor Bai Yansong.
Yao Ming, a retired basketball star who heads the Chinese Basketball Association, has moved from the CPPCC to the NPC.
(Reporting by Laurie Chen; additional reporting by Josh Ye in Hong Kong and the Beijing Newsroom; Editing by Tony Munroe and Kim Coghill)