NPC Endorses Five-Year Economic and Social Plans

The National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature, on Tuesday voted in favor of Premier Wen Jiabao's government work report and the country's newest five-year development blueprint. The decision endorses China's new economic policies that relate primarily to rural development and sci-tech progress.

The vote was taken at the closing meeting of the annual session of the 10th NPC in Beijing attended by 2,891 NPC deputies from across China. The session that convened on March 5 concluded today.

The government work report and the five-year plan for national economic and social development set an eight percent growth rate for 2006, and 7.5 percent per year for the next four years up to 2010. A key focus of the plan is to reduce energy consumption and pollutant discharge.

Wen's report received 98.86 percent of the votes, and the 11th Five-Year Guidelines for Economic and Social Development more than 97 percent.

Top lawmaker Wu Bangguo presided over the closing meeting, also attended by President Hu Jintao, Wen and other leaders.

"This validation of the government's action plan for the next five years signifies a major shift in China's economic policies: from urban development and heavy investment in billion-dollar projects to increasing rural and sci-tech investment in the interest of sustainable development," according to Li Chong'an, an NPC deputy and vice-chairman of the NPC Law Committee.

Over the last five years, China has maintained an average 9.5 percent annual economic growth rate. In 2005, this rose to 9. 9 percent and per capita gross domestic product (GDP) exceeded US$1,700.

The government action plan not only emphasizes economic efficiency, but also stresses social equity by narrowing the gap between rich and poor to achieve "the ultimate goal of easing social confrontations and maintaining social stability", according to Dr. Ding Yuanzhu of the Macroeconomic Research Institute of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC).

Throughout the session, Hu and Wen both highlighted the central authorities' determination to press ahead with reform measures initiated by the late Deng Xiaoping in the 1970s.

But Dr Ding pointed out that "they have put more emphasis on democratic and scientific policy making and balanced development to ensure that reforms benefit the majority, if not all, of the population".

This paradigm shift is clear if the 11th Five-Year Guidelines are compared with the 10th. The latest version contains fewer plans for multi-billion-dollar construction projects such as diverting water from the country's south to the north, or a gas pipeline stretching from western frontiers to the coastal east.

Instead, more government funds will be used to improve standards of living for the country's 900 million, and boost sci-tech research and development. The aim is to transform the country from a workshop of cheap exports into a manufacturer of homegrown global brands.

Infrastructure investment will be shifted from the urban areas to the countryside, with a focus on farmland, roads, safe drinking water, methane facilities, power grids and telecommunications networks.

Wen also pledged that rural children will receive a free nine years of compulsory education, an unprecedented decision in the history of modern China.

"It will not be easy to fulfill the goals of the 11th Five-Year Guidelines, especially where reducing energy consumption and saving resources are concerned," admitted NPC deputy Li Chong'an. "But they are necessary and efforts will be intensified to realize them."

The NPC resolution endorsing the Guidelines states that the goals are "achievable through tangible efforts". This is because the action plans reflect the real conditions of China and the common aspirations of the Chinese People.

Also on Tuesday, the NPC approved the central budget for 2006, and the work reports of the NPC Standing Committee, the Supreme People 's Court and the Supreme People's Procuratorate.

(Xinhua News Agency March 14, 2006)

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