When Premier Wen Jiabao mapped out the country's development plan for the next five years, it marked the beginning of an entirely new phase in China's growth.
The most important feature is the shifting of focus from the speed of growth so far driven by huge investment in manufacturing and urban infrastructure as well as exports to a stress on sustainability based on rural development and various social programmes.
Annual GDP growth is set at 7.5 percent during 2006-2010, two percentage points lower than the average during the 2000-2005 period.
Per capita GDP in 2010 will be double the 2000 figure, the premier told National People's Congress deputies while presenting the 11th Five-Year (2006-10) Social and Economic Development Guidelines. The plan will be discussed by NPC deputies today and tomorrow before voting.
The orientation of the plan indicates that the government has clearly recognized the problems with the model of growth China has been following since economic reforms were launched in 1978.
China has relied largely on manufacturing low value-added products for other countries, using its land, natural resources and labour.
But because of strain on these factors of production, the country has decided to optimize the structure of growth, improve efficiency and decrease energy consumption in future development.
Despite the proposed slowdown in economic development pace, China's highest leadership has pledged to improve the lot of rural residents by launching a "new socialist countryside drive" to benefit the 750 million farmers.
The development of agriculture and rural areas is of great significance for China, the draft plan says.
"Only when the problems relating to agriculture, rural areas and farmers have been solved can China's economy develop in the right direction."
The problems hindering the development of agriculture and rural areas are slow growth in farmers' income and poor socio-economic conditions.
To build China into a generally well-off society and accelerate its modernization process, "the most arduous task rests in the countryside," the draft plan was cited.
Plan drafters said it would take decades before a new socialist countryside turns into reality. To achieve the goals, the golden rule is to "give more to, and take less from, the countryside."
(China Daily March 4, 2006)