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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Stress on economy as China holds annual meetings

March 5, 2010

By CHRISTOPHER BODEEN
The Associate Press (AP)
March 3, 2010

BEIJING - China's top parliamentary adviser says 2010 will be
critical for maintaining growth, creating jobs, and diversifying away
from exports, underscoring the economy's central importance as the
annual legislative session prepares to open.

Beijing declared that China had emerged from the global crisis after
economic growth rebounded to 10.7 percent in the final quarter of
2009. But authorities say the global outlook is still uncertain, amid
worries that a stimulus-driven torrent of lending is adding to
inflation and fueling a dangerous bubble in stock and real estate prices.

"The year 2010 is a crucial year for China to respond to the impact
of the global financial crisis and maintain steady and rapid economic
development," Jia Qinglin said in a speech at the opening Wednesday
of the annual gathering of the Chinese People's Political
Consultative Conference.

Jia, the Communist Party's No. 4 ranking leader, said policies would
focus on "accelerating the transformation of the pattern of economic
development," citing the need to boost the service sector and develop
low-polluting industries.

The stress on economic measures is expected to be even more
pronounced at the annual session of the legislature, the National
People's Congress, which opens on Friday with a major address by
Premier Wen Jiabao.

This week's consultative conference, of which Jia is chairman,
advises the congress on legislation but has no decision making power.

The overlapping meetings mark the highlight of the Chinese political
calendar, laying out priorities for the rest of the year.

Along with economic policy, this year's session will give a full
airing to hot-button issues such as soaring real estate prices in
many Chinese cities.

The government, which releases a budget and work plan for the year,
is expected to boost spending on education, pensions and medical
care, continuing a push begun over the past decade to strengthen a
tattered social safety net.

While most decisions are handled by a standing committee that meets
year-round, the annual full session this year is expected to pass
legislation on safeguarding state secrets and amend a law on how
deputies are selected, correcting a disparity that gave urban Chinese
greater representation than their more numerous rural neighbors.

The communist government hails the NPC, made up of nearly 3,000
hand-picked members, as a system of reaching consensus best suited to
China and rejects calls for a Western-style multiparty democracy.

However, many experts question the effectiveness of the NPC and CPPCC
in assuaging discontent and ensuring social stability, citing their
primary roles as backing decisions made by the top leadership.

In his speech, Jia also commented on riots last July in the
far-western Xinjiang region, where clashes between minority
Turkic-speaking Uighurs and majority Han residents in the city of
Urumqi left nearly 200 people dead and 1,600 wounded, in China's
worst ethnic unrest in decades.

"We strongly supported the party and the government in dealing with
the destructive, disruptive, violent, and criminal incidents in
Urumqi in accordance with the law," he said.

In China's other troubled minority area, Tibet, Jia said China
planned to push "leapfrog development and lasting stability." The
comments follow a high-level Communist Party conference in January
that emphasized raising rural livelihoods in Tibet, an apparent
acknowledgment that decades of investment in industry and
infrastructure have failed to endear Chinese rule to the region's
herders and farmers.

Along the sidelines, the congress will focus attention on a national
leadership transition that begins with a key Communist Party congress in 2012.

Many of the aspirants for top jobs will seek to network among
congress participants and maximize their national media exposure.

Particular attention is being paid this year to Bo Xilai, party boss
of the western city of Chongqing, who is riding a wave of popularity
for an anti-gang crusade in which dozens of law enforcement officials
have been arrested for collusion.

Security was stepped-up in the capital Wednesday, with black-clad
SWAT teams on motorcycles and in armored vans circling Tiananmen
Square, adjacent to the Great Hall of the People where the meetings take place.

Dissidents and groups working on sensitive social issues came under
increased pressure. AIDS activist Wan Yanhai, founder of the
Beijing-based Aizhixing Institute, said police had ordered him to
cancel a seminar Wednesday marking International Sex Worker Rights Day.

"The seminar is a perfectly normal activity; we're not opposing
anything," Wan said in a telephone interview. "It's a meeting of the
people's government, so they should let the people express themselves."
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