China rejects comparison with North Africa uprisings

Chinese PM said political and economic restructuring should be coordinated.

Updated: Mar 14, 2011, 11:18 AM IST

Beijing: China on Monday rejected any comparison between itself and the Middle East and North African countries where popular uprisings toppled autocrats.

Premier Wen Jiabao told a news conference at the end of the country`s annual legislative session that the country was wrestling with finding the right mix between creating jobs and fighting inflation. The result is key to maintaining stability amid a growing gap between rich and poor, and is a big concern of the government.

He said it was not right to compare China with protest-hit countries.

"We have followed closely the turbulence in some North African and Middle Eastern countries. We believe it is not right to draw an analogy between China and those countries," Wen said.

The National People`s Congress that closed on Monday promised higher social spending, controls on inflation and measures to urgently close the divisive rich-poor gap, betting that rising living standards and better services will dampen growing public expectations for political change.

The emphasis comes as the government seems increasingly anxious about online calls of unknown origin urging Chinese to stage peaceful rallies every Sunday like the ones in Tunisia and Egypt. Beijing has been smothered under ever-heavier security since the Internet messages first appeared more than a month ago. No similar protests have emerged in China.

When asked about political reforms, Wen said political and economic restructuring should be coordinated. When Chinese leaders talk about political reform, they usually mean expanding experiments with direct elections at the village level and enabling greater public input — not transitioning to a multiparty system.

Wen`s comments came after the congress approved economic plans for the next five years that aim to empower consumers but rejected any hints of political reforms.

The Five-Year Plan to run through the end of 2015 calls for a shift from rapid economic growth to higher quality, more sustainable development with a greater emphasis on services and broader distribution of wealth. If carried out, the plan could drive a far-reaching transformation of the world`s second-largest economy from low-cost factory into a major consumer market.

More consumer demand could help to boost imports, narrowing China`s trade surplus with the United States and other major economies.

China also needs to shift money from companies to households, which could narrow the gulf between China`s poor majority and its rich elite and fledgling middle class — who have profited from economic reform.

The wide-ranging plan promises more rural health care spending and job help for out-of-work farmers — a step that could promote growth of service industries and consumption.

The nearly 3,000 members of the congress approved the economic plan after 10 days of meetings. The Five-Year Plan is a throwback to central planning but a useful roadmap of Communist Party goals.

The government said at the beginning of the session that it planned to boost defence spending by 12.7 percent this year. A legislative spokesman said Beijing`s return to double-digit military growth after a dip in 2010 was not a threat to other countries.

The economic transformation plans come as President Hu Jintao and other party leaders prepare to hand over power next year to a younger generation. They are trying to ensure a smooth transition while leaders manoeuvre furiously in private to secure top posts for younger allies.

The plans for expanding access to health care would free up money for consumer spending, helping to push ahead the consumption drive.

In the countryside, home to some 800 million Chinese, the plan promises more spending to modernise agriculture and increase grain output — a key concern for Beijing, which sees food security as a priority.

The government will boost spending 12.5 percent this year, with bigger outlays for education, job creation, low-income housing, health care and pensions and other social insurance. Spending on police, courts, prosecutors and other domestic security will also exceed the military budget, climbing 13.8 percent to USD 95 billion.

Bureau Report