National People’s Congress Opens

A flurry of coverage has greeted the opening of the National People’s Congress. In a two-hour address, Wen Jiabao cited corruption and inflation as top priorities. From The Globe And Mail:

The Communist Party of China needs to change the way it operates if it wants to head off discontent among the 1.3 billion people it governs, Premier Wen Jiabao said Friday in his annual speech setting the agenda for the government.

Speaking at the opening of the National People’s Congress, China’s rubber-stamp parliament, Mr. Wen said the party needed to loosen the concentration of power in the hands of a few and “resolutely” deal with endemic corruption. He said the party has “not yet fundamentally solved a number of issues that the masses feel strongly about.”

Mr. Wen also said China’s battle to curb inflation is a “top priority,” the outcome of which could affect the stability of the country. Mr. Wen said the country would aim to keep inflation below 4 per cent this year – a target that may require heavy government intervention after prices rose 4.9 per cent in January, with food prices leaping an unsettling 10.3 per cent. Housing prices have also skyrocketed in Beijing, Shanghai and other cities.

The Wall Street Journal’s China Real Time Report has provided searchable copies of three major new government reports, while, at The Atlantic, Damien Ma has brought together numerical targets announced ahead of the forthcoming 12th Five Year Plan:

What I have seen from statements emanating from the meeting largely comport with what I have expected since last October. A focus on income, rebalancing, sustainability, and that lower 7% GDP target—basically the themes that were settled on at the CCP plenum last fall. While some of the broad targets have been released by Xinhua, the actual plan, which is reportedly some 118 pages long, has yet to be fully revealed. So instead of rehashing what many others have already said, I thought it might be useful to simply compile all the numerical targets that I can cobble together thus far.

I can’t speak to all the numbers here other than that many of these are likely aspirational, and of course plenty can change in five years.

Among the changes over the next five years will be China’s leadership. As MacKinnon noted on Twitter, this plan “stretches well into expected mandates of Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, who assume posts in 2012 & 2013.” From Reuters:

Building a fairer society has been a core goal of Wen’s premiership, but the income gap has in fact widened during his eight years in power and he is trying to lay the groundwork for improvement before a leadership reshuffle in late 2012.

“As Deng Xiaoping said, the first step is to make a part of the people rich and the next step is to make everyone rich,” said Shen Jianguang, economist with Mizuho Securities, referring to the Chinese leader who launched market reforms in the late 1970s.

“They have already done a great job on the first step. Some people have gotten very rich. But the second step is lagging behind.”

Following Wen’s pledge to strengthen the government’s petitions process, McClatchy’s Tom Lasseter visited the nearby State Bureau for Letters and Calls. From the Miami Herald:

As more petitioners began to tell their stories, a young man in a black jacket walked up and yelled for them to stop talking. Accompanied by three other men, he snatched people by the arms and pushed them away.

A policeman came over and after checking a McClatchy reporter’s credentials said it was OK for the interviews to continue.

The men responded by hollering even louder and trying to drag a translator working with the reporter down the street. It wasn’t clear whether the men were plainclothes police or security guards employed by provincial authorities to prevent people from airing complaints about hometown grievances.

The policeman, looking a bit nervous, first tried to intercede and then walked off, leaving the men in control of the crowd.

The Wall Street Journal’s Bob Davis blogged his impressions, comparing the proceedings with the Washington scene to which he is more accustomed:

For a longtime Washington reporter new to Beijing, like myself, there was plenty that seemed familiar at the opening session of the National People’s Congress – the heavy security, the military band playing the national anthem, the obsequious political aides.

But so much seemed different and novel and frankly bizarre, starting with the performance of Premier Wen Jiabao, who read a 15,000-word booklet on China’s plans for the future to the 2,923 delegates assembled in the stupendously large Great Hall of the People. Mr. Wen didn’t take a break during the two hours it took him to deliver it, which reminded me of a former Rhode Island congressman, Fernand St. Germain. He would grill witnesses for hours at a time at House hearings, figuring that his bladder control gave him an edge ….

The audience broke into applause only two dozen times during the two hours, and a fair number of those were when Mr. Wen was wrapping up. (At the 2011 State of the Union, President Barack Obama’s 7,000-word speech was interrupted some 80 times.) No one shouted out “You lie,” let alone “Free Tibet.”


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