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China's Congress Addresses State of the Country - 2003-03-06

China's parliament, the National People's Congress opened Wednesday in Beijing with sweeping leadership changes and a progress report on the nation’s economy. VOA-TV’s Chris Simkins has more.

China’s National People’s Congress got underway with an assessment of the state of the country. In his farewell speech before he retires China's Prime Minister Zhu Rongji says the government has been successful in boosting the nations economy over the past five years. Mr. Zhu says the economy grew at a yearly average of seven-point-seven percent during his tenure, and made good progress in shifting from a planned to a market economy. He says the growth will help solve China's many problems.

But the Prime Minister acknowledged that economic reform has been painful, as many inefficient state-owned companies have collapsed, throwing 27 million people out of work. Mr. Zhu told the delegates at the Congress meeting that the framework of a social security system has been established to help the needy.

On other economic issues Mr. Zhu said China’s per capita urban incomes grew more than eight percent to more than 900 dollars a year. But he says rural incomes are one-third the urban level and are growing much more slowly.

This is a problem because 800 million Chinese live on farms. Economists say China's stagnant banking system is slowing investments that could help create badly needed jobs in both rural and urban areas.

On Foreign affairs, Mr. Zhu says his government made progress on the Taiwan issue. Beijing regards the self-governing island as a rebellious province that should be returned to control of the central government.

The prime minister urged the government to expand contacts with Taiwan's political parties and to cooperate more on economic and cultural matters as steps toward peaceful reunification.

This year’s National People's Congress meeting marks the official retirement of some of China's top leaders, including Mr. Zhu and Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

At the end of the two-week session of parliament, Vice President Hu Jintao is expected to become China's new president. The leadership transition is considered the most orderly transfer of power in China since Communist rule began in 1949.