China to stress social wellbeing over growt

BEIJING: China’s government promised its people Tuesday deficit-fueled spending to fight corruption, improve the despoiled environment and address other quality-of-life issues that a growing number of Chinese are demanding.

In a speech outlining government plans at the opening of the annual National People’s Congress, outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao signaled that leaders would no longer emphasize growth at all costs and would down-shift development to put priority on social programs.

“We must make ensuring and improving people’s wellbeing the starting point and goal of all the government’s work, give entire priority to it, and strive to strengthen social development,” said Wen, who will step down at the end of the legislative session.

The session will complete China’s once-a-decade leadership transition that began with a Communist Party congress in November that appointed Xi Jinping as party leader and as the country’s new chief along with a new cohort of leaders in the Politburo. Xi will formally be named president, replacing outgoing Hu Jintao, during the 13-day session.

Wen’s address, though given by the outgoing premier, and the accompanying budget presented by the government Tuesday are consensus documents approved by the new leadership and reflect Xi’s priorities.

Overall government spending will increase 10 percent to 13.8 trillion yuan ($2.2 trillion) helped by a 50 percent increase in the coming year’s fiscal deficit. Defense spending will increase 10.7 percent to 720 billion yuan — a slight slowdown from last year’s increase of 11.2 percent.

There was special emphasis on reducing energy consumption, improving conservation and solving the country’s serious air, soil and water pollution.

“In response to people’s expectations of having a good living environment, we should greatly strengthen ecological improvement and environmental protection,” Wen said. “The state of the ecological environment affects the level of the people’s wellbeing and also posterity and the future of our nation.”

Hundreds of soldiers, police and plainclothes security officers, equipped with fire extinguishers and anti-explosive blankets, ringed the Great Hall of the People and the adjacent Tiananmen Square for the opening session.