03/05/2004, 00.00
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NPC: Wen Jiabao focus on farmers and jobs

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) -  The 3,000-odd delegates to the National People's Congress (NPC) began their 10-day session with Premier Wen Jiabao giving his yearly State of the Nation' address in which he pledged continued strong economic growth of "around seven per cent", following last year's 9.1 per cent rise. Amid fears of over-investment and the development of a bubble economy, Mr Wen presented a strategy that aims to achieve stable and even growth this year.

Premier Wen Jiabao promised to increase spending on agriculture, education, job creation and social security this year as part of efforts to provide more assistance to the poor.

Speaking of the huge wealth gap between cities and countryside, Mr Wen says agriculture remains the government's priority this year.

Wen said the government is planning more direct and forceful measures to support agriculture and boost farmers' income. The central government will pump 30 billion yuan into the agricultural sector, a 20 per cent increase over last year, while urging local authorities to also invest more. The government will also abolish special agricultural taxes, such as those applied to the fish industry and certain cash crops - except tobacco - which will save farmers 4.8 billion yuan each year.

The premier also made a special mention of the government's plan to help migrant labourers recover unpaid wages from property developers as well as from local authorities.

Media reports have suggested that the millions of migrant workers on the mainland are owed more than 200 billion yuan in back pay.

Mr Wen says job creation will be another important task for the government this year.

The government plans to create 9 million jobs and help a further 5 million unemployed people find work. It plans to earmark 8.3 billion yuan to assist re-employment schemes, an increase of 3.6 billion yuan from last year.

It will also set aside 77.9 billion yuan for social security coverage and unemployment insurance, up 11.3 per cent over last year

Mr Wen also made clear the mainland would never tolerate independence in Taiwan, as the island gears up for elections on March 20. China views the island as part of its territory even though Taiwan has been ruled separately for over 50 years and is concerned Premier Chen Shui-bian's re-election will be another step towards Taiwanese independence.

In his speech, Mr Wen also focused on the government corruption. "It will be an arduous task for the government to rectify itself and fight corruption," said Mr Wen.

With former president Jiang in attendance, Mr Wen said China would step up efforts to boost military strength to safeguard national security. The 2004 budget will include an 11.6 per cent rise in military spending over 2003. "Stepping up efforts to modernise our national defence and armed forces is an important guarantee for safeguarding national security and building a moderately prosperous society in all respects," he said.  Mr Jiang was sitting in a prominent position further signalling his firm grip on political power despite a leadership transition last year.


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