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Chinese Leader Seeks Cleaner, More Efficient Government

China's newly-elected President Xi Jinping delivers a speech during the closing session of the National People's Congress in Beijing March 17, 2013.
China's newly-elected President Xi Jinping delivers a speech during the closing session of the National People's Congress in Beijing March 17, 2013.
Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered his first address as head of the country Sunday during the closing ceremony of the annual legislative meetings called the National People’s Congress. In his address, Xi pledged to fight corruption, improve government efficiency and fight for what he called the great renaissance of the Chinese nation.

China is facing tremendous challenges. After three decades of strong economic growth, the rate of expansion of the world’s second largest economy is slowing. The gap between the rich and poor is widening. Public disgust with official graft is threatening the very life of the party that has single-handedly ruled this country for more than six decades.

President Xi Jinping called on leading Communist Party officials to be an example to the public.

Xi said the Party and its leaders should always put the people above all else and fight against bureaucracy, an over-emphasis on formalism, extravagance and hedonism. He says it should also fight against corruption and all kinds of misconduct.

Xi has been talking up the government’s fight against corruption since taking over as head of the Communist Party late last year. Earlier this week, China completed its leadership transition when he was selected, during a largely ceremonial meeting, as the country’s president.

The National People’s Congress meets every year and is an opportunity for officials to lay out their vision for the year ahead. Although it is largely considered a rubber stamp body, several votes faced a large number of opposing ballots during this year’s meetings.

During Sunday’s session, the budget for China’s central government and local governments passed, but 509 representatives voted against the budget and 127 of the body’s appoximate 3,000 delegates abstained.

In a sign of the country’s growing displeasure with the widespread problem of pollution, delegates cast 850 opposing votes and mustered 140 abstentions in a ballot to select members of the legislature's environmental protection committee.

In his speech, Xi called on the country’s leadership to work tirelessly for the country and to achieve the dream of rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.

President Xi says that in the face of mighty trends of the times and the earnest expectations of the public for a better life, the Party cannot be complacent or show signs of slacking off.

Although there were no real surprises in Xi’s speech, his effort at repackaging the challenges China’s government faces and its pledges to take a more down-to-earth approach is already resonating among the public.

Street reactions

In interviews with VOA on the street in Beijing, residents were optimistic about the road ahead.

One woman, surnamed Zhang, a 30-year-old white-collar worker, said that ever since China’s new leaders began assuming their roles late last year, they have shown a new style of work and vigor.

Zhang said that it seems that China’s new leaders are more in touch with the public. She added that while they have yet to come out with any concrete policies - and it is not clear what the future will hold - they have gotten off to a good start.

One middle-aged Beijing man told VOA that the most important thing for the government is to improve people’s lives.

He said the government has stepped up efforts against corrupt officials, tightened the government's budget and limited unnecessary expenses. These are all welcome policies, he said.

During his speech Sunday, Xi also stressed the importance of economic development, saying it would remain a top priority. Speaking to the military, President Xi urged it to improve its ability to win battles and firmly protect national sovereignty and security.