Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) Tens of thousands of Chinese security personnel took up position in Beijing on Friday as delegates gathered for the annual session of China's National People's Congress (NPC) that opens tomorrow. More than 650,000 officers will stand guard and patrol the city's streets and lanes every day to guarantee security.
The session is being held in the Great Hall of the People, next to Tiananmen Square. It is expected to last 10 days and will host 3,000 delegates from every corner of the country.
Concurrently, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference will be in session to advise the NPC.
Since the NPC's annual session is the only time when some form of public debate takes place on the state of the nation, ordinary citizens have used it to press on the delegates petitions and demands on behalf of the unemployed, industrial workers, farmers and peasants as well as requests for redress of abuses.
Fear that demonstrations might break out have however led the authorities to ban pedestrians from Tiananmen Square. Cars arriving in the city are being stopped and searched. And the security measures include a ban on hot air balloons, model aircraft and para-gliders.
All these precautions have not prevented the first incidents from happening though.
The police detained at least 60 unemployed workers from north-eastern China who had arrived in the capital to voice their concerns days in advance to avoid the cordon sanitaire thrown up around the city.
"We have lost our job and have nothing to eat. What can we do?" one of them was quoted as saying.
A US photo-journalist, Michael Reynolds, who was trying to meet groups carrying petitions, was surrounded by the police and repeatedly beaten.
The situation in Beijing is increasingly tense because of the widening gap between haves and have-nots with industrial and farm workers increasingly restless.
The authorities are concerned that dissidents or friends of the late party leader Zhao Ziyang, who was ousted for refusing to use force to crackdown on Tiananmen Square protesters in 1989, might stage a demonstration. Although his funeral was low key and under the party's tight wrap, the traditional time of mourning ends this Sunday might be used to protest.
Among the issues the NPC has to tackle there is a proposed anti-Taiwan secession bill that would give China the legal bases to attack the island should it declare independence.
The bill is by many seen as a tool to drum up the country's nationalist spirit but also as a warning to Taiwan's pro-independence forces not to go too far.
Others also see it as a warning against separatism among Xinjiang's Islamic population and Tibetan nationalists.
The NPC will also deal with economic issues, among them: how to maintain economic growth avoiding inflation, fighting graft and corruption, better redistributive policies in favour of the poor, especially farmers, peasants and rural residents who have suffered the most under the current economic phase.
It would seem though that defence spending is taking a lion's share. According to NPC'S spokesman Jiang Enzhu, China's military budget will rise by 12.6 per cent this year to 247.7 billion yuan (.9 billion). This continues the trend of the past 15 years in which China steadily boosted defence spending by an average of 10 per cent per year in order to transform its military into a high-tech force.
As part of this military build-up, Chinese generals are currently in Europe to convince the European Union to lift the arms embargo it imposed following the Tiananmen Square massacre.
This session of the NCP will also the end the transition of power from former President and General Secretary of the Communist Party Jiang Zemin to his current successor, Hu Jintao, who represents the People's Republic's fourth generation of leaders.
Many analysts expect that Hu Jintao will consolidate his grip on power by changing personnel in top positions in government ministries, hitherto occupied by men tied to Jiang Zemin and the 'gang of Shanghai'.