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China's New PM Meets Media for First Time - 2003-03-18


China's new prime minister says rural poverty and rising unemployment are his nation's biggest problems. Wen Jiabao met reporters for the first time since taking office on Sunday.

The new prime minister says China's farmers have been left behind by two decades of roaring economic growth that have transformed China's coastal cities.

Wen Jiabao says helping the nation's hundreds of millions of farmers tops the agenda for his new government. Mr. Wen says China's backward agriculture is hurting efforts to expand the nation's economy.

But there are also urban problems, as the shift from a communist planned economy to a more market-oriented one has seen the collapse of thousands of state-owned companies. That has thrown tens of millions of people out of work.

Mr. Wen says the number of laid off workers "keeps going up" and is putting tremendous pressure on the social security system. He says transforming inefficient state enterprises into efficient private companies will be a long-term task. That transformation would go faster if China's banks were not buried under $400 billion in bad loans, and Mr. Wen promised to push ahead with efforts to reform the financial sector.

Mr. Wen says Beijing wants to resume talks with Taiwan and press forward toward a peaceful reunification. Taiwan split politically from China amid civil war half a century ago and has been ruled separately ever since. China has said it will use force, if necessary, to recover the island it regards as part of its territory.

Mr. Wen is part of a new generation of Chinese leaders taking power during the annual meeting of the National People's Congress, which ends Tuesday. Hu Jintao took over the presidency from Jiang Zemin and Mr. Wen replaced Zhu Rongji.

Mr. Wen told journalists that his style is superficially "milder" than his blunt and fiery predecessor. But he insists his quiet manner does not mean that he lacks convictions - or the courage to act strongly to carry them out.

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