China's Wen Jiabao says 'reforms urgent'

Media caption,
Premier Wen Jiabao says China must press on with reforms

China's Premier Wen Jiabao has delivered a strong warning about the ''urgent'' need for reforms, without which, he said, tragedies such as the Cultural Revolution could still happen.

He was speaking after his last National People's Congress news conference.

He added that China's decision to cut its economic growth target to 7.5% for 2012 was essential to sustain growth.

He also spoke on US-China trade links, relations with Taiwan and said that China would step up currency reform.

He stressed that China needed to press on with both political and economic reforms.

Reforms, he added, had to be ''gradual and orderly'' and were essential for the country's economy.

This was the last NPC meeting before a leadership transition begins later this year. Mr Wen opened the meetings last week with a speech that cut the economic growth target and addressed land and military issues.

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, and Vice-Premier Li Keqiang is tipped to succeed Mr Wen.

Mr Wen was speaking to both domestic and foreign journalists after the closing of the parliament session.

Responding to a question, he said that the desire for democracy in the Middle East must be ''respected and truly responded to''.

''I believe this trend towards democracy cannot be held back by any force," he said.

However, the series of self-immolations in Tibet, he said, were ''extreme''.

A number of people including monks, mostly in southwest Tibetan areas of China, have set themselves on fire in protest over Chinese rule in Tibet. Activists and rights groups say at least 19 have died.

'Sorry' for problems

As he began the news conference, he was visibly emotional, saying that he was ''sorry'' for economic and social problems in the last decade.

As the leader of the country, he said, he ''should assume responsibility'' for the problems in the country during his time in office.

"There is still room for improvement in my work," said the leader who is heading into his last year as premier.

Premier Wen is often referred to as "Grandpa Wen" in China, says the BBC's Martin Patience in Beijing.

He is seen as the people's champion and is known - in public at least - for his humility, says our correspondent.

In the three-hour news conference, he addressed questions ranging from domestic issues such as housing prices and the controversial incident involving senior Chongqing policeman Wang Lijun.

Mr Wang, who spent a day at the US consulate in southwest China, sparking speculation he was seeking asylum, was removed from his post and was said to be on leave because of "stress".

Mr Wen said local authorities must ''seriously'' reflect and learn from the incident. Beijing regarded this ''very seriously'' and progress has been made in ongoing investigations, he added.

On US-China trade, he said he would like to expand US imports and increase two-way investments.

On cross-straits relations with Taiwan, he said that he was pleased with the progress, but would like to see stronger economic ties, including encouraging banks in China and Taiwan to invest in each other.

On the Chinese currency, he said that the yuan may be nearing an ''equilibrium'' and pledged to allow the yuan to float more freely as part of its efforts to reform its currency policy.

At the conclusion of the parliament session earlier, lawmakers voted on government work reports and budgets and passed amendments to the Criminal Procedure Law that sets out police powers to detain dissidents.

The official Xinhua news agency reported that the Chinese parliament adopted the country's plan for national economic and social development and the budget.

The changes to the criminal law that some critics say could legalise secret detention was passed with a vast majority of some 3,000 delegates voting for in favour. Others say the revisions would limit the police's power to carry out such detentions.

This law follows a spate of detentions of high-profile dissidents last year.