Wen Jiabao 'well-being' vow as China parliament opens

 

Economic and social issues topped Wen Jiabao's final work report

China's Premier Wen Jiabao promised stable growth, anti-corruption efforts and better welfare provision as he opened an annual session of parliament.

Mr Wen, whose work report traditionally begins the session, also called for more balanced development in a lengthy speech on both achievements and plans.

This National People's Congress will see the final stage of the country's once-in-a-decade leadership change.

Communist Party chief Xi Jinping will become president, replacing Hu Jintao.

The event will be keenly watched to see who secures other top government posts.

This work report - a 29-page consensus document approved by the leadership - is Mr Wen's last. He is expected to be replaced by Li Keqiang as premier later in the parliament session.

The report set a target of 7.5% for economic growth, unchanged from 2012, with an inflation target of 3.5%, and promised to create more than nine million new urban jobs.

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What does the future hold for China?

Mr Wen said boosting domestic consumption was key, calling it a "long-term strategy for economic development".

Noting that dramatic changes to Chinese society had led to a marked increase in social problems, Mr Wen said livelihood issues should be addressed.

"We must make ensuring and improving people's well-being the starting point and goal of all the government's work, give entire priority to it, and strive to strengthen social development,'' Mr Wen said.

He spoke of improving pension provision for the poor and also focused on the adverse effects of development on the environment, saying: "The state of the ecological environment affects the level of the people's well-being and also posterity and the future of our nation.''

Corruption - the focus of Mr Xi's speech after he was formally appointed to lead the Communist Party in November - was also on the agenda, with Mr Wen calling for strengthened "political integrity" and better checks on power.

Analysis

Perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise the final speech of Wen Jiabao's career was full of vague promises. After all, the lengthy work report was doubtlessly written by a large committee, including soon-to-be-retired President Hu Jintao and the incoming team of Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang.

China's leadership team was probably responsible for the first half of Mr Wen's speech, which outlined the government's perceived achievements over the past five years. For almost an hour, Mr Wen listed statistics exemplifying the government's successes. At one point, he told his audience that "31 airports and 602 shipping berths for 10,000-ton ships were built" in five years.

The second half of the speech was comparatively short on numbers, as Mr Wen outlined the government's agenda for 2013. He offered specific plans for some social security programmes, including a decision to boost some basic pension plans by 10%. However other serious challenges, from the environment to corruption, only received vague mentions.

The lack of detail wasn't lost on micro-blog users. "The report spent 50 minutes on achievement and three minutes listing problems. A great report indeed," one user wrote sarcastically. "There are so many issues on the agenda, but it is useless just to deliver proposals!" wrote another. One micro-blog thread soliciting policy ideas from average people has already received more than seven million hits.

"We should ensure that the powers of policy making, implementation and oversight both constrain each other and function in concert," he said.

State media also reported that defence spending would rise by 10.7% to 720.2bn yuan ($115.7bn, £76.5bn), a slight drop from the rise of 11.2% in 2012.

China's military spending has seen several years of double-digit growth - and observers say actual expenditure is believed to be far higher. But the figure falls well short of US military spending.

Nonetheless, increases to China's military budget are keenly watched both by the US and neighbouring countries with whom Beijing is currently engaged in a raft of territorial disputes.

In his speech, Mr Wen promised to "resolutely uphold China's sovereignty, security and territorial integrity", drawing applause from delegates.

Vocal public

Around 3,000 delegates are attending the Congress, including members of the military, monks, ethnic minority representatives and business leaders. The majority are members of China's Communist Party.

Rather than debate policy, the role of the delegates is to ratify decisions already made by party officials behind closed doors, making the Congress essentially a rubber stamp parliament.

They are expected to approve plans to restructure several government departments as well as to amend some long-standing policies on the military, the virtual monopoly of some state enterprises and on individual freedoms.

While the exact schedule has not yet been made public, towards the end of the two-week-long event, Mr Xi will formally become the country's new president.

Since his party promotion in November, Mr Xi has been feted in Chinese media as a man of the people who shuns the usual trappings of his position, as well as a staunch nationalist.

He has also been quoted speaking firmly of the need to stamp out corruption at all levels, warning of civil unrest if party privilege is not tackled.

Also set for promotion is Li Keqiang who, as the replacement for Wen Jiabao, is expected to give a press conference at the end of the gathering.

Wen's report: 2013 policy targets

  • Economy to grow by 7.5% in 2013, with inflation kept to 3.5%
  • More than 9m jobs to be created in towns and cities, while urban unemployment to be kept below 4.6%
  • Boost consumer spending to make economy less dependent on exports
  • Implement a "proactive fiscal policy" giving priority to education, healthcare and social security
  • Complete 4.7m subsidised urban homes and begin construction on another 6.3m

Security has been tightened for the NPC, with police and other security personnel patrolling in increased numbers around the Great Hall of the People.

China's new leaders are set to inherit a far more vocal public than their predecessors faced, with social media now forcing them to address public concerns more than they ever have before.

On the eve of the Congress, the country's media reflected high public expectations, reporting demands for action on corruption, education, social care, the environment and inequality.

And after Mr Wen's speech, many internet users posting on weibo, Chinese versions of Twitter, appeared frustrated that the premier failed to present specific solutions to looming challenges.

Some highlighted particular concerns, such as reform of the household registration system, or water and air pollution, while others spoke out on the wealth gap.

"Whatever (economic) increase there has been has only benefitted corrupt officials; ordinary people are still poor," wrote one internet user on Tencent Weibo.

 

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  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 14.

    I wish he left one on animal rights too. China,s National Dish is a disgrace"

    But only for a short list of special, prefered animals ; dogs, cats, horses and anything small with big eyes? No equivalent rights for sardines and chickens?

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 13.

    Re #1

    Massive THEFT of US intellectual property and THEFT of US technologies& know-how by Chinese Army's hackers aside - we're dealing with the country which not only occupies and exploits Tibet (mostly for uranium) but also East Turkestan (aka Muslim Turkic Uighuria) and a large chunk of Mongolia, which Beijing comrades call Inner Mongolia. Check what part of PRC they constitute.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 12.

    We make too much fuss about democracy. Democracy is good but not for everybody and all the time. My simple question is why there is no democracy in the UN if democracy is always the best option? Why not remove veto power to bring democracy.

    For democracy to work properly, masses should be well informed and hence be able to informed dceisions. Chine has moved a long way from soviet style communism

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 11.

    The greater the actual or perceived wealth of the Chinese nation the better it is for peace..they have much to lose now in any conflict. Clearly there is much improvement required in respect of personal rights at all levels but much has been done in the past 30 years.It took the UK and US 100+ years to change their civil rights..and even now more is required.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 10.

    I wish he left one on animal rights too. China,s National Dish is a disgrace.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 9.

    @ 8.Samp18--

    Although I am not a british I do understand why they won't give up Gibraltar or Falklands.... Because it is not kept againts their will. Where as Tibetian are at your Ransom (if you are Chinese) and you are ruling them against their Will... So Shut your ....

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 8.

    Lots of China bashing, sounds like sour grapes. Don't forget how the west got where they are, by invading and taking what they what, compared this to China's growth, I think they are doing quite a good job. For all the Brits moaning about Tibet, don't you think you should give back Falklands and Gibraltar just as a start. Hypocrites.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 7.

    We need to stop buying Cinese goods.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 6.

    To those who champion china as a superpower and those who herald their economic success in spite of their tyranny in places like Tibet I say this;

    'Non bene pro toto libertas venditur auro'

    (Latin for "Liberty is not well sold for all the gold").

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 5.

    A one party corrupt state dictatorship, occupying Tibet, with mass pollution of the environment and food supply, and threatening all its neighbours over 'historic' claims to territories, hundreds of miles away .... still, its all being well for the communist party, and that's what he really means.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 4.

    The Chinese government is morally bankrupt. They stamp down hard on any dissent in order to "protect" the citizens who make-up the state. And yet this same state has utterly abandoned the very citizens it claims to represent. The leaders, like every communist regime before them, have forgotten the inequalities that led to their ascension and now fight to retain power like any other dictatorship.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 3.

    It was far easier to introduce economic reform but much harder to reform politically. The greatest asset for China is and will remain its greatest enemy to develop it further as a country (not for few well connected people)- i.e authoritarian communism, lack of human rights and basic freedom to access information.

    China must connect to outside world on a transparent basis.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 2.

    @levap: apparently American got larger and also active army

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 1.

    As long as there is the current communist goverment, I wouldn't trust them one iota! The recent cyber attacks from China only confirm my worries. They have the largest standing army against who? They do no peace keeping around the Globe! They have to do peace keeping at home.
    It is just the old rule, if you can't beat them, you join them, and join threy did!

 

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