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People's Congress Becomes Focus of Nation

Chinese residents are expected to stay glued to their TV sets and newspapers for the next two weeks, to follow how the nation's top legislators will address the public's key concerns and to review the new year's round of State spending and economic policies.

The annual session of the National People's Congress, set to open tomorrow and run through March 15, will focus on the public call for a crackdown on corruption, implications of World Trade Organization entry and how to enrich rural communities and lighten their tax burden.

It will also hold debates on such public concerns as how to combat the global economic slump, how to create jobs for surplus rural workers, safety in the workplace, social security and health care reform, and the war on pollution.

It is the final meeting for the current NPC membership, which spans a five-year term. A total of 2,987 legislators, including farmers, lawyers, scholars, private business investors and State officials from throughout the country, will attend the gathering.

"The campaign against corruption has rooted out quite a few rotten officials in the last two years. This is good news. But the problem is far from over," said Liu Xiaoyang, a 45-year-old taxi driver in Beijing. "I hope the legislators can come up with tightened laws against such misconduct."

A recent survey prior to the NPC meeting by People's Daily ranked corruption first of the top 10 concerns among the public, followed by WTO impact and the rural income issue. The daily reached more than 1,000 respondents via the Internet.

Wang Xiaoxia, a newspaper vendor, said she was concerned about the impact WTO entry will have on her life. Wang said many people in her neighbourhood are worried that the entry will force some ailing State-owned enterprises to get rid of more redundant workers.

"I want to know whether people can secure jobs and money in the post-WTO period, especially right now with the global economy still in a slump," said Wang.

All eyes will be fixed on Premier Zhu Rongji's state-of-the-union address at the opening session tomorrow, as he will address how China will keep the economy on a healthy track by expanding domestic demand and consumption.

China secured a 7.3 percent growth in its economy last year, and this year it is expected to maintain about a 7 percent growth rate.

Along with Zhu, Finance Minister Xiang Huaicheng will detail the annual State budget plan, with a new issuance of national bonds to buoy up the domestic economy.

But what Gao Huixian, a farmer from Central China's Henan Province, is concerned about is getting a job in Beijing. He just arrived in the capital, hoping to get a job to feed his family by taking advantage of the construction boom for the upcoming 2008 Olympic Games.

"In rural areas, the bread-and-butter issue is not a big deal as we can grow crops for food, but we are suffering from a money squeeze. People have to go to the towns for job opportunities," said Gao.

Gao hoped that the NPC meeting can help create new jobs in the cities while reducing taxes and random administrative charges on farmers and finding more ways to increase rural incomes.

The WTO entry is expected to put more heat on the nation's 800 million rural residents as imported agriculture products will be gunning for consumers in the domestic market.

Zhang Huanyu, a NPC deputy from North China's Hebei Province, said that farmers now have little idea of how to restructure their production to compete in the market, and called for more agriculture engineers and experts to go to the countryside to assist them.

Zhang also called for creating more small towns to handle the surplus rural workers, with township enterprises becoming a major channel for new jobs.

(China Daily March 4, 2002)

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