China’s government on Tuesday promised deficit spending to fight deep-seated corruption, improve the despoiled environment and address other quality-of-life issues.
In the government’s annual policy speech, retiring Premier Wen Jiabao signalled that leaders would no longer emphasise growth at all costs and would down-shift development to put priority on social programmes.
“We must make ensuring and improving people’s well-being the starting point and goal of all the government’s work. Give entire priority to it, and strive to strengthen social development,” he said during a 100-minute speech, opening the national legislature’s annual session in the Great Hall of the People.
The marked shift in emphasis is emblematic of a once-a-decade leadership transition that began four months ago when Xi Jinping and other younger leaders were appointed to run the ruling Communist Party.
The largely ceremonial legislature, known as the National People’s Congress, caps the transition and approves appointments to top government posts to manage the economic and foreign policies of the world’s second largest economy and fledgling global power.
Wen’s address, though given by the outgoing premier, and the accompanying budget presented by the government on Tuesday are consensus documents approved by the new Xi leadership team.
Overall government spending will increase 10 percent to 13.8 trillion yuan (2.2 trillion US dollars).
Defence spending will increase 10.7 percent to 720 billion yuan (114 (b) billion US dollars) – higher than the overall spending rate but a slight slowdown from last year’s increase of 11.2 percent.
According to reports, Wen forecast a deficit increase of 400 billion yuan to 1.2 trillion yuan (191 billion US dollars) in 2013.
Restoring the battered environment came in for special attention, with Wen calling for 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 people’s well-being and also the posterity and future of our nation.”
Wen underlined the commitment to the anti-corruption campaign that party leaders have stressed is vital to their legitimacy and survival.
“We should unwaveringly combat corruption, strengthen political integrity, establish institutions to end the excessive concentration of power and lack of checks on power, and ensure that officials are honest, that the government is clean, and that political affairs are handled with integrity,” said Wen.
The appeal to bread-and-butter issues resonated with the delegates, many of whom have little power but are picked to make the congress appear broadly representative.
This year’s boost for national defence continues a nearly unbroken two decades of annual double-digit percentage increases that have made China the world’s second highest military spender behind the US.
The substantial outlay shows that Xi wants robust backing for the People’s Liberation Army at a time when China has tense territorial disputes with neighbours and wants to reduce US influence in the region.
“We do not wish to have a war. But the Chinese military personnel and forces are determined in terms of safeguarding China’s security, interests, sovereignty and territory,” said delegate Wang Jianxin, an admiral in the naval division of the People’s Liberation Army.
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