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China Vows to Fight Corruption As Congress Opens

  • VOA News

China's government promised to fight corruption, improve the environment and grow the economy as its annual parliamentary session got underway Tuesday.

Thousands of delegates from across the country have gathered amid heavy security in Beijing for the 13-day session of the National People's Congress that will complete China's once-a-decade leadership change.

Outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao delivered his last government work report at the opening session. He said China faces a difficult task in correcting China's unbalanced economic growth and income disparity.

"Economic development is increasingly in conflict with resource conservation and environmental protection," he said. "The development gap between urban and rural areas and between regions is large, and so are income disparities between individuals."

Mr. Wen said the economic growth target for China this year is 7.5 percent, similar to last year, and that the government will fight to curb inflation. Defense spending will increase by almost 11 percent.

During the meeting of the largely ceremonial parliament, Chinese Communist Party chief Xi Jinping will formally take over the presidency from Hu Jintao. Li Keqiang will succeed Mr. Wen as prime minister.

China's new leadership faces an increasingly vocal population that is calling for action on issues such as corruption, pollution, and inequality.

Jamie Metzl of the Asia Society tells VOA that if China's government cannot address these issues quickly, it faces an uncertain future.

"Whether that will translate into social unrest, I don't know. But certainly it's very important for the Chinese government, though not elected, to have some element of support among the Chinese people," he said. "Right now the central government has that, but they'll need to address these three issues in order to maintain it."

One delegate at the congress, Jin Zhanzhong, says many people in his rural province of Liaoning want the Communist Party to fight corruption.

"Rural people pay great attention to the problem of corruption. Our party has the ability and the leadership to manage the party and to develop the country," he said.

In his speech, Mr. Wen promised the government would "unwaveringly" fight corruption, a problem that the Communist Party has recently said could threaten its hold on power.

Mr. Wen also promised efforts to restore China's battered environment, saying Beijing should focus on reducing energy consumption, improving conservation and solving air, soil and water pollution.

There has been unprecedented levels of outrage leveled at the Chinese government in recent months, as extreme air pollution has filled Beijing and other major cities, grounding flights and keeping citizens indoors for days.

One controversial aspect of Mr. Wen's speech was his call for continued modernization of China's military. Government figures released Tuesday said China will boost defense spending by 10.7 percent in 2013, continuing a nearly unbroken two-decade-long pattern of annual double-digit increases.

Herman Finley of Hawaii's Asia/Pacific Center for Security Studies tells VOA that the rapid increase in military spending raises questions for China's neighbors, many of which are involved in increasingly bitter territorial disputes with Beijing.

"What is it that China is so intent on achieving? With long range aviation, amphibious ships, missiles, aircraft carriers, satellite killers, all these things on the shopping list, the (People's Liberation Army) unfortunately looks less and less like a military designed primarily for internal or territorial defense," he said.

Japan and China are engaged in a prolonged and worsening dispute over a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. Countries including Vietnam and the Philippines have separate territorial disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea.