The annual meeting of China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), is nothing if not predictable. After all, this is the political body that has never actually voted down a policy.
Opening the 10-day jamboree (which, curiously, always seems to see the ethnic minority NPC delegates pushed to the front for photo calls – never let it be said China is not a diverse, equal and caring society), Premier Wen Jiabao hit all the expected buttons.
“The pattern of economic growth is inefficient,” Wen told the 3,000 delegates. “This can be seen most clearly in excessive energy consumption and serious environmental pollution.”
There goes that chemical plant they wanted to build in northern Anhui. And Shandong, Guangdong, Henan, et al.
And it’s not as if the provinces can simply nod in agreement and then do whatever the hell they want any longer. At least, not in theory. Wen noted that many of the problems are down to local governments that have failed to comply with environmental regulations and requirements.
The message is clear: the party’s over boys. China is no longer interested in growth at any cost.
(Incidentally, there is no reason why the message shouldn’t be clear. This mantra has been publicly polished for months now just so it would be nice and shiny for Wen’s big speech.)
The tighter leash to be placed on provinces previously committed to lightning growth is reflected in Wen’s GDP growth projection for 2007 – “around 8%”, down from 10.7% in 2006. Note the “around”. Based on Beijing’s track record, a projection of 8% means they will struggle to keep it below 9-9.5%.
As if things couldn’t get any worse for your provincial official who has grown fat on the government’s tab, Wen added: “Quite a few local governments, government offices and organizations compete with one another for lavishness and spend money hand over foot, which arouses strong public resentment.”
Cue the hearts and minds section of the address, complete with the prerequisite reference to “building a harmonious countryside”. Down with corruption, down with the rich-poor divide and up with farmers’ incomes, buoyed by better education and medical care.
Expect more on the “new Socialist countryside” Tuesday, courtesy of a news conference starring officials from the Chinese People’s Political Consultive Conference.
Come Wednesday and it’s back to controlling the growth express train, with your friendly ticket collector Ma Kai, director of the National Development and Reform Commission.