03/13/2009, 00.00
CHINA
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National People's Congress concludes, a "success" far from the problems of the people

by Wang Zhicheng
For 9 days, the almost 3,000 delegates discussed the economy, and approved documents already decided. But they made no immediate decisions about the growing unemployment and the situation of rural residents. Many of the delegates are also critical.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The annual session of the National People's Congress (NPC) concluded today, the only gathering of the almost 3,000 delegates of the parliament. The 9 days of meetings addressed economic issues above all, but ignored human rights and democracy, and the real needs of the population.

In the concluding address, Wu Bangguo, president of the National People's Congress (NPC), hailed the session as "a complete success," in part because of the many resolutions that were adopted. In reality, it is an open secret that the proposed laws are discussed and decided by the 150 members of the permanent committee of the NPC that meets every two months. The NPC is called only to ratify them, genuine plebiscites that are nearly unanimous: the opening report by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao on March 5 on the economic situation was approved by 2,824 delegates of the 2,898 present, 97.4%.

In recent years, the debate in the assembly has also seen timid openness to human rights and democracy on the "grassroots" level, partly in order to control the growing popular dissatisfaction with the local authorities. But this year, economic questions dominated, with repeated assurances that the country will overcome the crisis and continue its economic growth.

There was also very little attention to the Tibetan question, in spite of the fact that in recent days Tibet has essentially been placed under martial law out of fear of protests. President Hu Jintao spoke about this on March 9 only in order to reinforce the rhetoric of the fight against separatism and hostile forces.

But the main criticism among the delegates themselves is that the economic emergency has led to an overlooking of significant social problems. The delegate Ge Jianxiong told education minister Zhou Ji that "education expenditure has never reached the level of 4 percent of GDP," the government target since 2000. In developed countries, average spending on education was 4.9% in 2005, but China set aside only 3.3% in 2007.

This scarcity of funding, among other things, is crippling education in rural areas especially, with the resulting disadvantage for those students in a very competitive educational system. Huang Daren, president of Sun Yat-sen University, stated that only 30% of university students come from rural families.

There is also a lack of serious initiatives for the situation in the countryside. In 2008, the average annual income for a farmer was 4,761 yuan, compared with 11,020 yuan in the cities. In 2009, prices have already plunged, and at least 20 million migrant workers have lost their jobs. Wei Chaoan, deputy minister of agriculture, estimates that "it will be more difficult than ever to keep rural income growing." Because of this, the unemployed migrants do not want to return to their village of origin. Wei maintains that the problem of unemployment "will become more serious by May or June this year."

The prison system was also the object of many criticisms. The problem of caring for prisoners exploded into a public debate after a prisoner was beaten to death by other prisoners in Yunnan, but the authorities tried to pass it off as an accidental death. Deputy justice minister Duan Zhengkun has stated that "detention houses should not be managed by public security departments, because they make the arrests, and sometimes torture the accused to force them to confess." Today, the reports of the Supreme People's Procurator received the strongest disapproval in recent days: more than 500 votes against, and about 200 abstensions out of 2,898 voters.

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