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China's Legislative Body Opens Annual Session With Focus on Taiwan; Economic Growth

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has opened the annual legislative session of the National People's Congress with a call for Taiwan's peaceful reunification with China and promises to keep the economy growing at a healthy pace.

With much fanfare, 3,000 deputies - some dressed in colorful costumes of China's minority groups - filled Beijing's Great Hall of the People Saturday to begin the annual 10-day legislative session of the National Peoples' Congress.

Over the course of two hours, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao read a report on the work of the government: a long list of objectives that include measures to alleviate rural poverty, fight corruption, and keep China's economy growing without overheating.

But topping this year's agenda is an anti-secession law aimed at Taiwan. Mr. Wen became impassioned when he called for national unity, drawing a strong round of applause from deputies.

"This law represents the common will and strong determination of the entire Chinese people to safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country, and never allow secessionist forces working for Taiwan independence to separate Taiwan from China under any name or by any means," said Wen Jiabao. "We will work to together with our Taiwan compatriots to accomplish the great undertaking of reunifying the motherland."

China considers democratically-ruled Taiwan a part of its territory. Since the two split in 1949 following the Chinese civil war, Communist leaders on the mainland have said they will reunite the island - by force if necessary.

Mr. Wen did not outline details of the law.

Analysts are concerned the anti-secession law and a 12-point, six percent boost in military spending this year may signal plans for an offensive against the island.

In other reports presented Saturday, officials pledged to curb fixed asset investments, cut government spending, and other measures meant to keep China's fast-growing economy from overheating.

Analysts see the 10-day gathering as a largely symbolic meeting, since legislation is drafted in advance with the approval of higher-level Communist Party officials.