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China's PM Intent on Rooting Out Corruption

China's prime minister says the country faces serious problems in rooting out corruption and aiding hundreds of millions of impoverished farmers. Prime Minister Zhu Rongji's remarks came in the keynote speech to this year's National People's Congress.

Blunt-spoken Prime Minister Zhu Rongji urged members of China's Parliament to help "carry the fight against corruption further."

Mr. Zhu urges his comrades in the ruling Communist Party to "tell the truth," do more to "run the country according to law" with "high standards" — or face severe sanctions. A recent poll in China shows corruption to be a top concern among citizens, and the government has cracked down on officials who abuse their power. Several high-ranking officials have been executed.

Mr. Zhu denounces officials who launch "unfeasible construction projects when they can not even pay wages on time."

Thousands of people in China complain that wages and pensions are paid late or not at all, which sometimes sparks protests and raises fears about social stability.

China's leadership also worries that nation's impoverished farmers could be a source of instability. Their plight is expected to worsen as China's World Trade Organization agreements allow cheaper imported food to compete with local produce.

Mr. Zhu says raising farmers' purchasing power is key to boosting demand in China. He says raising domestic demand will help the country survive what he called the grim economic situation in the rest of the world.

Mr. Zhu says membership in the WTO will be good for China in the long term, but brings challenges now. He urges improvements in the education system, and more research to help Chinese companies survive competition from foreign firms.

The thousands of members of the congress interrupted Mr. Zhu's comments with applauce only a few times. The Premier is popular with the public because he addresses their concerns in a straight-forward way. But he has upset many officials by calling attention to their inefficiency or dishonesty. The 73-year-old Mr. Zhu is expected to retire next year.