China's Premier Wen opens National People's Congress

China's Premier Wen Jiabao, right, shakes hands with President Hu Jintao after the opening ceremony of the National People"s Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing 5 March, 2012 Premier Wen Jiabao, right, and President Hu Jintao at the opening of the 10-day parliamentary session

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Premier Wen Jiabao cut China's economic growth target as he opened the last parliament session under the current leadership.

Speaking to some 3,000 delegates at Beijing's Great Hall of the People, Mr Wen addressed land and military issues.

He talked of "property rights" for farmers and said China needed to be able to win "local wars".

This is the last National People's Congress before a leadership transition begins later this year.

The once-in-a-decade transfer of power will begin in October. Vice-President Xi Jinping is widely expected to take over the party leadership from President Hu Jintao.

Behind the scenes of this session senior officials will be jockeying for power, say correspondents, but the Communist party will be determined to keep any divisions within its ruling elite behind closed doors.

'Steady development'

Analysis

China's leaders do not like to spring big surprises and Wen Jiabao's speech was in line with that principle. His work report contained many expected details and pledges.

As usual, there was a raft of economic figures - China will aim for economic growth of 7.5% this year, slightly lower than in previous years.

This reflects the fact that the world economy is struggling, and that China needs to change the way it does business.

But there were a few items in the speech that could raise eyebrows. Mr Wen said the main task of the country's growing military is "to win local wars" - words that will be keenly studied in the capitals of China's neighbours.

The premier also spoke of Chinese farmers having "property rights" and "land ownership" - odd words for a man who knows all land in China, at the moment, is effectively owned by the government.

He said economic and political reforms should be pursued with "greater resolve and courage".

The premier is on the verge of retirement. Perhaps this report contained a hint of Wen Jiabao's true thoughts.

In an address seen as China's "state of the nation" speech, Mr Wen said China had set a 7.5% economic growth target this year - lower than the 8% target of the last eight years.

He said the move aimed to allow changes to the pattern of economic development, making it "more sustainable and efficient".

China also set its inflation target at 4% and pledged to create nine million new jobs in towns and cities.

Mr Wen spoke of boosting domestic consumption, increasing spending on social services and raising incomes of middle and low-income groups, as well as expanding consumer credit.

"We aim to promote steady and robust economic development, keep prices stable, and guard against financial risks by keeping the total money and credit supply at an appropriate level, and taking a cautious and flexible approach," he said.

The premier addressed the issue of land rights - a topic that has become more prominent in recent months following high-profile protests against land seizures for development in the Guangdong village of Wukan.

"Farmers' rights to the land they contract to work on, to the land on which their houses sit and to proceeds from collective undertakings are property rights conferred by law, and these rights must not be violated by anyone," he said.

Security issues were also high on the agenda. Parliament convened a day after China announced a 11.2% increase in its defence spending - pushing it above $100bn (£65bn) for the first time.

Countdown to transition

  • October 2012: The 17th Central Committee (2007-2012) convenes to select China's 18th Central Committee (2013-2018), including party secretary, Politburo and Standing Committee
  • March 2013: Selection of new government, including president, premier and State Council at the NPC
  • Timing unclear: Hu Jintao to step down as chairman of Central Military Commission
  • Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang seen as frontrunners to replace President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao

"We will enhance the armed forces' capacity to accomplish a wide range of military tasks, the most important of which is to win local wars under information-age conditions," Mr Wen said.

In recent months tensions between China and its neighbours over territorial disputes in the South China Sea have been growing.

An increase of 11.5% in public security spending was also announced, bringing the annual total to $111bn.

This comes amid tension in ethnic Tibetan parts of China and days after an attack in Xinjiang - home to minority Muslim Uighurs - left 20 people dead.

During the meeting, which ends on 14 March, parliament is expected to approve changes to the criminal procedure law which officials say will give suspects more rights - but which activists fear could legalise secret detentions.

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