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Year 2004 Crucial to China's Reform, Development

The sessions of China's top legislature and advisory body have been attracting attention both at home and overseas, as a growing number of people come to recognize the importance of the sessions to the country's development this year.


What people expect from the sessions, opening Wednesday and Friday respectively, are scientific planning and proactive policies for China's modernization drive to get onto the right track for comprehensive, well-coordinated and sustainable progress, a major issue which observers said may bring about profound changes in all aspects of Chinese society.


"China's per-capita gross domestic product (GDP) topped the US$1,000-level last year, which set a new starting point for China's social and economic development," said Prof. He Wenjie of Hebei Industrial University, who is here for the annual session of the National People's Congress (NPC).


As Chinese consumers turn to luxury goods such as cars, personal computers and name-brand consumer electronics and seek more cultural products and better education and health services, the professor acknowledged, "China will face a golden era for development."


However, it is also an era of increasing contradictions highlighted by the widening gap between cities and the countryside, between various regions and industries, and between the highly-paid people and low income earners.


Statistics show that in 1978, the urban dwellers' income was 1.57 times that of rural residents, and the figure soared to 3.23 times in 2003. In terms of foreign capital influx, the amount of foreign funds in the 12 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities in western China only made up 5 percent of the country's total in 2003. And the urbanization rate in the developed eastern coastal region reached 45 percent, while that of the western region stands was less than 30 percent.


The shortage of natural resources such as oil, copper and iron ore, and grave environmental pollution also posed a knotty problem for China to build a well-off society in an all-round way.


NPC deputy Lin Zhaomu, an economist, said the only solution to these problems hinges on the promotion of reform and development, and the year 2004 is crucial for working to tackle some deep-rooted problems.


Another issue analysts expect the NPC and CPPCC sessions to deal with is how to avoid overheated growth, which has been seen in property, steel and cement sectors.


Qiu Xiaohua, deputy director of the National Statistics Bureau and a member of the CPPCC (Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference), is not quite satisfied with the rapid economic growth last year, saying that it was partly base on "an over-consumption of natural resources."


In 2003, China's GDP made up less than 4 percent of the world's total, but its consumption of coal, iron ore, steel and cement accounted for 31 percent, 30 percent, 27 percent and 40 percent of the world's total, respectively.


China's cropland shrank by nearly 6.7 million hectares over the past few years, most of which went to real estate projects and the construction of development zones, while the country has less than 40 percent of the world's average in terms of per capita cropland.


However, NPC deputies and CPPCC members confide in the future and have brought with them a large number of bills and proposals for discussion and deliberation at their annual sessions.


NPC deputy Lin Zhaomu suggests the government take advantage of the global economic recovery for creation of a favorable external environment. Prof. Xiao Zhuoji, a CPPCC member, calls for effecting qualified and efficient economic growth and reducing the issue of treasure bonds step by step, so as to give scope to the role of private capital.


CPPCC member Lin Yifu, who heads the China economic research center of prestigious Beijing University, shows great concern over coordinated development of urban and rural areas, and stands for growing financial input to cultural, education and public health facilities in the rural areas, while reducing taxes and fees levies on farmers and raising their income.


The deputies and members also urge vigorous growth of labor-intensive industries to provide jobs for the contingent of job seekers.


Now that the deputies and members have well prepared to set forth bills and proposals, observers said, what people are waiting are the decisions to reach at the two sessions.


(China Daily March 4, 2004)


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