Mar 03, 2008

China: Top Advisors Meet Ahead of Olympics

The Beijing Olympics, rising inflation and a plan to streamline the central government were expected to dominate Monday's opening of China's legislative season.

The Beijing Olympics, rising inflation and a plan to streamline the central government were expected to dominate Monday's opening of China's legislative season.

More than 2,200 members of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the legislature's top noncommunist advisory body, gathered from around the country at the cavernous Great Hall of the People in central Beijing.

Jia Qinglin, the fourth most powerful person in the Communist Party, addressed the opening session, singling out the Olympics and efforts to block formal independence by Taiwan as key priorities.

In a speech heavy with communist ideology, Jia said members of the CPPCC would seek to build links with pro-unification groups on Taiwan "in opposing and containing separatist activities aimed at Taiwan independence."

The start of the CPPCC meeting will be followed Wednesday [05 March 2008] by the opening of the National People's Congress, the ceremonial legislature, which is set to appoint new Cabinet ministers and other top officials at its sessions running concurrently through next week.

Most of those decisions were made already at last year's [2007] 17th Communist Party national congress, which appointed President Hu Jintao to another five-year term as party leader.

Pundits say a possible future Hu successor, Xi Jinping, is set to take on the vice president's spot, replacing influential party insider Zeng Qinghong.

Security, always a visible presence around Tiananmen Square, was tight Monday [03 March 2008]. Additional police were on roads and in subway stations and parts of the square were closed off.

A sidewalk on the opposite side of the square from the Great Hall, where protesters gather to air grievances, was roped off with police telling people to move away.

Although China concentrates decision-making powers at the top of the party, the NPC and CPPCC provide an important forum for communication between the political elite and ordinary Chinese amid rapid social changes.

Party members account for about only 40 percent of the CPPCC's delegates, who are drawn widely from among businesspeople, religious figures, academics, celebrities and athletes.

The Aug. 8-24 [2008] Olympics are a source of immense pride for China, which has invested billions to rebuild Beijing.

While the capital will host the bulk of the events, other regions are being affected through the use of funds, factory stoppages to ensure clean air and the diversion of water from agriculture to the city.

Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949 and Beijing continues to view the island as part of its territory. It has threatened to attack if Taiwan moves to make its de facto independence permanent.

Inflation, worsened by crop-ravaging winter storms, is also a major concern with prices rising by 7.1 percent in January [2008], the highest level in 11 years, led by an 18.2 percent jump in food costs. Housing prices also are rising rapidly.

A statement issued last week [Week 9, 2008] after a three-day meeting of the party's Central Committee also promised to improve regulation of investment, consumption and exports. It gave no details of how the measures would be carried out.

The NPC is also expected to discuss proposals to boost government efficiency and reduce bureaucratic infighting, possibility by reducing the number of Cabinet agencies from 28 to about 20, bringing China closer inline with major industrialized nations such as the United States.