China’s Prime Minister Wen Jiabao promised stable growth, anti-corruption efforts and better welfare provision as he opened an annual session of parliament.
Wen Jiabao, 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 Wen Jiabao’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.
PM Wen Jiabao 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, Wen Jiabao 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,” the PM 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 Xi Jinping’s speech after he was formally appointed to lead the Communist Party in November – was also on the agenda, with Wen Jiabao 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 720.2 billion yuan ($115.7 billion), 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 neighboring countries with whom Beijing is currently engaged in a raft of territorial disputes.
In his speech, Wen Jiabao promised to “resolutely uphold China’s sovereignty, security and territorial integrity”, drawing applause from delegates.
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, Xi Jinping will formally become the country’s new president.
Since his party promotion in November, Xi Jinping 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.
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 Wen Jiabao’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.
Wen Jiabao’s report on 2013 policy targets:
- Chinese economy to grow by 7.5% in 2013, with inflation kept to 3.5%
- More than 9 million 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 4.7 million subsidized urban homes and begin construction on another 6.3 million