Premier Wen Jiabao's 2012 Government Work Report on March 5, which opened the National People's Congress sessions, exuded confidence in both its delivery and content. It linked China's past to a confident future.
His report listed the difficulties encountered and solved last year and set the general development themes for the balance of the critical 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15): the deepening of reform and opening-up, the transition to a new pattern of economic development, and the intensifying of efforts to achieve a xiaokang, or moderately prosperous, society.
The deepening of reform and opening-up is a key focus of the NPC and concurrent Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference sessions. The word "reform" was mentioned more than 60 times in Wen's report and it was mentioned 17 times in the Work Report of the CPPCC's Standing Committee, delivered by Jia Qinglin, China's top political advisor, on March 3.
Reform and opening-up is, of course, Deng Xiaoping's signature policy contribution to China's enormously successful development following his famous "Southern Tour Speeches" 20 years ago. In these speeches he made it clear that only a dead-end awaited China without socialism, reform and opening-up, economic development, and the improvement of people's livelihoods.
Of the six reforms mentioned in Wen's report, three are notable. First, government functions must be transformed to balance the relationship between the government and the market. Second, reform to promote more equitable income distribution; this will not only create social harmony but also more disposable income for domestic consumption, which will help sustain continuous national economic growth. Third, reforms to strengthen the rule of law and innovation in social administration will seek to counter reform-resistant vested-interest groups. It should be noted that the presence of powerful interest groups can negatively affect equitable income distribution.
Opening-up will continue to be outward-oriented. Wen's report lists the following measures: maintaining steady growth in foreign trade, encouraging and promoting foreign investment and the manufacturing of advanced technologies and new service industries for China's central and western regions, and promoting and facilitating domestic companies investing overseas.
The second theme, the transformation toward a domestic pattern of economic development, is a pressing task. It signifies a new strategic direction. In the past the direction was export manufacturing. Now it is comprehensive domestic development, especially economic.
Specific programs and measures in Wen's report that promote people's livelihoods and well-being support the transformation of the development pattern.
The portions of Wen's report devoted to people's livelihoods included increasing employment by 9 million new jobs in 2012, increasing farmers' incomes, the old-age pension system, low-income housing, and income increases in line with economic growth. The portions devoted to people's well-being included increasing government spending in areas important to people's well-being: medical insurance; controlling air pollution by monitoring PM2.5 fine particulate matter in major metropolitan areas starting now, and then expanding the monitoring to cities at the prefectural level by 2015; government spending on education to be 4 percent of GDP, and enhancing school bus safety.
The third theme, the construction of a xiaokang society, is an ancient ideal of equity, security, and harmony. Efforts to create a xiaokang society will be intensified. While every program and measure in Wen's report will contribute to the construction of a xiaokang society, some can be identified as being especially efficacious. Reform of land distribution to farmers, equitable income distribution, and the fact that China will participate in global governance to make the international political and economic order more just will promote equity. China's armed forces will combat terrorism, maintain stability, handle emergencies, and provide disaster relief to promote security. Efforts to resolve social conflicts, economic and democratic support for the Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions, and the nurturing of peaceful political, economic, and cultural cross-Straits relations will promote harmony.
In a historical sense the emphasis on reform and opening-up and people's well-being is a continuation of the central thought of Deng Xiaoping's "Southern Tour Speeches," articulated 20 years ago. But these foci also serve the transformation of the pattern of economic development, which requires continuous reform and opening-up, especially reform.
Premier Wen said in his report that reform and opening-up are the correct choice for directing China's future, as improving people's livelihoods and well-being will enable people to have the economic power to contribute to the domestic pattern of economic development.
The author is a professor of Western and Chinese philosophy at Montclair State University in New Jersey, US.