Wen Jiabao, 5 MarchBoth the economy and social issues topped Wen Jiabao’s final work report to the NPC

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 speech on past achievements and future 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 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.

“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.”

People’s Congress: Key events

Xi Jinping (left) and Li Keqiang (4 March 2013)

  • Premier Wen Jiabao to give his final “work report”, expected to focus on the economy
  • Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang expected to be declared the new president and premier respectively
  • Top foreign policy posts will be filled
  • The new premier will give a press conference at the end of the Congress

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.

“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.

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.

Delegates attend the Congress, 5 MarchAround 3,000 delegates are attending the Congress

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 is expected to take over the top economic post from Mr Wen. As such, he will give a press conference at the end of the gathering and set about forming the country’s new cabinet.

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 increasingly pressing issue of pollution and for steps to address the growing wealth gap.

“Instead of telling people how excited they are about what the country has achieved, our legislators and political advisers should focus more on sharing their wisdom on how to make things even better,” a China Daily editorial said.

“That is the change the country needs and the people are eagerly waiting for.”

Wen Jiabao opens China National People’s Congress – BBC News
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