Beijing (AsiaNews) - The National People's Congress opened today without flowers or red carpet, heeding warnings against excess spending. During their annual gathering, the 3,000 delegates to China's parliament will have until 17 March to approve the transfer of power from Hun Jintao and Wen Jiabao to Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang. Although they will be able to discuss various political matters, the Standing Committee of the Politburo has already decided the main policies. All delegates can do is approve them.
In this morning's session, outgoing Prime Minister Wen Jiabao presented his work report, laying down the guidelines for the future. In a speech that lasted almost 100 minutes, pre-approved by the leadership, Wen set a target of 7.5 per cent growth this year with an inflation target of 3.5 per cent. Overall government spending should go up by ten per cent with the aim of creating more than nine million urban jobs.
As in other years, he criticised the excesses of China's government-directed, investment-heavy economic model, calling growth "unbalanced, uncoordinated and unsustainable". He also noted the growing income gap that has left the public disgruntled and fuelled social unrest.
For three times he called for a change in the growth model to reduce waste, stressing the need to develop domestic demand to fill the gap left by stagnant exports at a time when foreign demands is weakened by the world's economic crisis.
"We must make ensuring and improving people's well-being the starting point and goal of all the government's work," Wen explained. This includes improving pensions and the environment as well as reducing energy consumption and pollution of air, water and land. "The state of the environment affects the level of the people's wellbeing and also posterity and the future of our nation," he said.
Corruption was another major issue Wen tackled in his speech, something "We should unwaveringly combat" in order to "strengthen political integrity". In fact, when he became party secretary last November, Xi Jinping said that corruption was destroying the party and its power base.
Not mentioned yesterday, defence spending will go up by "only" 10.7 per cent, down from last year's increase of 11.2 per cent, necessary however according to Wen to "resolutely uphold China's sovereignty, security and territorial integrity", a statement that drew applause from delegates.
No sooner had Wen finished speaking that he and President Hu came in for criticism for failing to keep their promises.
Voices have been raised in the past against corruption, with people in high places calling for top party officials and their families to release information about their revenues and assets. Neither Wen Jiabao nor Xi Jinping has done so. When foreign media took up the issue, Chinese authorities simply blocked them online.
Despite official pronouncements, the environment also got short thrift. In last year's session, the NPC said it would "unwaveringly conserve energy and reduce emissions" and protect the "environment more effectively". In fact, air and water quality got worse.
On the eve of the NPA gathering, many hoped for constructive work on education, health care, poverty, inequality and corruption. Instead, "we only got words," said one young person.