The opening of parliament is the biggest political event of the year in China, and it had already been delayed by over two months.
But as the occasion got underway on Friday (May 22), a sombre tone was set as Beijing refrained from setting its 2020 growth target.
It marks the first time China has dropped the GDP goal since it began being published in 1990.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang pledged to increase spending to support the economy, in what is said to be the shortest government work report in 40 years: "This year, we must prioritise stabilising employment, ensuring people's livelihood, resolutely winning the battle against poverty and strive to achieve the goal of building a well-off society." China's economy shrank 6.8% in the first quarter from a year earlier, its first contraction since at least 1992.
The crisis has put a halt on spending and paralysed production.
Li warned of falling domestic consumption, investment and exports.
Beijing also announced plans for security legislation for Hong Kong, which Li said will provide a "sound" legal system for the 'one country, two systems' approach.
Critics though say it could curb autonomy in Hong Kong.
The move sparked warnings from the United States, falls on Asian stock markets and calls from Hong Kong activists for protests in the former British colony.