The 10th National People's Congress convened its Third Session in Beijing on Saturday morning. Premier Wen Jiabao delivers a government work report. In his report, Wen reviewed the social and economic development in 2004 and outlined the work tasks for the year 2005.
Premier Wen said China's economic and social development plan for 2004 was implemented satisfactorily by and large as outstanding economic problems were alleviated, negative, destabilizing factors held in check and national economy continued its excellent trend of rapid growth, good performance and strong vitality.
These achievements are listed in the Report on the Implementation of the 2004 Plan for National Economic and Social Development and on the 2005 Draft Plan for National Economic and Social Development, done by the National Development and Reform Commission. The report has been submitted to the annual session of the National People's Congress (NPC) and to be examined and approved by the NPC deputies.
The report cites the major indices in the national economic and social development in 2004. According to the report, China's GDP reached 13.6515 trillion yuan in 2004, representing a year-on-year rise of 9.5 percent and exceeding the target set at the beginning of that year. There were 9.8 million urban residents entering the workforce for the first time, 800,000 over the target; and the registered urban unemployment rate was 4.2 percent, 0.5 percentage points below the target.
Influenced by the rise of grain prices and soaring oil prices on the international market, the consumer price index rose by 3.9 percent, slightly higher than the target of around 3 percent. Total volume of imports and exports increased by 35.7 percent due to the sustained world economic recovery and China's rapid economic growth, says the report.
It says in 2004, the economy grew rapidly yet steadily, and economic performance improved remarkably; adjustment of the industrial structure was vigorously promoted, and weak sectors were strengthened; further progress was made in the development of the western region, and restructuring and transformation of northeast China and other old industrial bases got off to a good start; economic restructuring was further deepened, and China opened wider to the outside world; undertakings in science and technology, education, culture and health developed rapidly, and further progress was made in ecological conservation and environmental protection; and further progress was made in employment and social security work, and people's lives continued to improve.
The report also points out the obstacles to maintaining steady and rapid economic development: first, the agricultural infrastructure remains weak; second, the driving force behind investment growth is strong, and investment demand could return to excessive levels; third, there are tight constraints on resources and the environment; fourth, rural education, health, culture and other social undertakings fall far short of demand; fifth, the employment situation is gloomy and the income gap between some members of society is too wide, and some low-income people lead difficult lives; and sixth, deep-seated conflicts in economic and social development have yet to be fundamentally eliminated.
For the year 2005, Premier Wen said in his report said China will gear down its high-octane economy to a level lower than the stunning 9.5 percent registered in 2004, as the government targets an "appropriate" 8-percent GDP (gross domestic product) growth rate this year.
It would be a "key job" for the government to keep the world's fastest-growing economy developing on a "fast and stable" track, Wen stressed.
"Neither a big up nor down in the economy is conducive to economic growth, reform and opening-up drive and social stability."
While high-speed economic growth and dramatic social changes continue to distinguish China across the globe, Premier Wen said the government will "strive to solve outstanding problems vital to the immediate interests of the people, safeguard social stability and build a harmonious socialist society" in 2005. Wen called for more efforts to be made to serve the "harmony" drive.
In 2005, 10.9 billion yuan (US$1.3 billion) will be allocated from the central budget to help laid-offs to be re-employed, 2.6 billion yuan (US$316.7 million) more than the last year. "Local budgets will also increase allocations for the reemployment drive," said Wen.
The Chinese leader also pledged to extend down-to-earth aid to rural areas to further spread compulsory education.
Starting this year, poor rural students covered by a national poverty alleviation plan will be provided with free textbooks and exempted from miscellaneous fees and those staying on campus will receive living allowances. The policy will be extended to all Chinese rural regions by 2007, according to Wen.
As an effort to help the country's 900 million farmers, a major issue with a bearing on China's pursuit of harmony, government departments at all levels across the country are urged to allocate more than 200 billion yuan (about US$24 billion) this year for this purpose, said an official of the State Council Friday.
While addressing the China's chronic coal mine safety problems, the Chinese Premier vowed 3 billion yuan (US$365 million) to be spent in 2005 to "help state-owned collieries upgrade their safety technologies."
During the past five months, China has seen a number of fatal coalmine accidents and the "industry in black" was smeared with the blood of hundreds of miners.
"We should draw on the bitter lessons paid in blood that these catastrophic accidents have taught," said Wen.
The premier also pledged to continue reforming the income distribution system, another top concern of the general public as indicated by many online polls done before this year's CPPCC and NPC sessions.
To tackle the widespread discontent with graft and corruption, the government will "continue to increase transparency of its work and boost popular confidence in government."
The premier reiterated governments at all levels should engineer economic growth and social progress with a scientific outlook on development, shifting the government's development philosophy from growth-centered to people-centered.
"The interests of the broad masses should be put in the first place," Wen Jiabao said.
Twenty-six out of China's 31 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions have so far posted the abolishment of agro-tax, a policy Wen set forth at last NPC session that benefits farmers at the cost of the central government's fiscal revenues.
The NPC deputies burst into applause when the premier announced agro-tax would be exempted across the country by 2006, two years earlier than the original timetable.
Farmers' earnings now lag behind city residents not only in amount, but also in growth rate -- being 7.7 percent for city dwellers and 6.8 percent for rural people last year.
For urban residents, Wen vowed to create 9 million new jobs this year after the country saw its registered urban unemployment rate fall by an annualized one tenth of a percentage point to 4.2 percent by the end of last year, a minor but first decrease in nearly a decade.
The central government will step up support for building of a nationwide disease control and medical treatment system to cope with emergency events like the SARS outbreak that killed hundreds in the spring-summer of 2003.
Premier Wen Jiabao also said that the Chinese mainland would continue working to restore consultation and negotiation between the two sides of the Taiwan Straits under the one-China principle and on the basis of equality.
"We will make the greatest possible effort to do anything conducive to the development of cross-Straits relations and the country's peaceful reunification," Wen said.
Wen said the mainland would adhere to the basic principles of "peaceful reunification" and "one country, two systems" and the eight-point proposal for the current stage of efforts to develop cross-Straits relations and promote peaceful reunification of the motherland, safeguard peace in the Taiwan Straits and facilitate steady development of cross-Straits relations.
"We will encourage and promote visits by individuals and economic and cultural exchanges and cooperation across the Straits. We will encourage and facilitate establishment of the 'three direct links' between the two sides," said Wen.
Wen said the Anti-Secession Law (draft), which will be deliberated in the current NPC session, provides a full expression of the mainland's unvarying position, which is that "we are working most sincerely and energetically to bring about peaceful reunification."
"This law represents the common will and strong determination of the entire Chinese people to safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country and never allow secessionist forces working for "Taiwan independence" to separate Taiwan from China under any name or by any means," he said.
In the report, Wen Jiabao announced that China would complete the task of trimming 200,000 military ranks this year.
Also at the opening of the Third Session, the Ministry of Finance reported on the implementation of the central and local budgets for 2004 and on the draft central and local budgets for 2005.
(Xinhua News Agency March 5, 2005)