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China sets 2013 economic growth at 7.5% as NPC opens

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

China set its economic growth target for this year at 7.5 percent, unchanged on 2012, ahead of the opening Tuesday of the annual parliament session of the world's second-largest economy.

The figure was contained in Premier Wen Jiabao's "work report", his opening address to thousands of delegates from across the country at the National People's Congress, China's rubber-stamp parliament.

The NPC is meeting for nearly two weeks in Beijing and will seal a power transfer to Li Keqiang as Wen's successor in charge of day-to-day government, and Communist Party supremo Xi Jinping as state president.

Wen's report also set this year's inflation target at 3.5 percent, after it came in at 2.6 percent in 2012, while the government laid down another double-digit rise in military spending.

China's economy is seen as a key driver of the global recovery, but has struggled in the face of weakness at home and in key overseas markets, with Europe assailed by its debt crisis and US growth remaining anaemic.

It grew 7.8 percent in 2012, its worst performance for 13 years, but normally exceeds the target set at the NPC.

"We deem it necessary and appropriate to set this year's target for economic growth at about 7.5 percent, a goal that we will have to work hard to attain," said an advance copy of Wen's speech.

"China is still under considerable inflationary pressure this year," he added. "We should energetically change the growth model," he also said, amid demands that China revamp its export-led growth in favour of domestic spending.

A separate government report said China's defence spending would rise 10.7 percent to 720.2 billion yuan ($115.7 billion) in 2013.

China's military budgets have risen steadily in recent years, and experts say the actual totals are usually substantially higher than the publicly announced figures.

The increases have come as China takes a more assertive stance on long-simmering territorial disputes with countries including Japan, and as the United States reorients its own military towards the Asia-Pacific region.

Heading into the NPC, China's new leaders have raised expectations with a deluge of propaganda during their first four months running the Communist Party, with pledges of cleaner government and greater devotion to people's livelihoods.

The NPC only passes measures pre-approved by party leaders, including a reorganisation of government bureaucracy that will see major ministerial changes, including the abolition of the much-maligned railways ministry.

But such changes are unlikely to curtail the state-owned enterprises that are powerful opponents of market-oriented reforms, said Jean Pierre Cabestan, politics professor at Hong Kong Baptist University.

"Whether it means we'll have more market, fewer monopolies and vested interests remains to be seen... I don't think there will be any fundamental changes," he said.

The NPC may address China's "reeducation through labour" system, which sees petty offenders sent to labour camps without trial. It has come under fire for its abuse by local governments as a way of quashing dissent.

But the degree of reform remains unclear.

Leaders must start meeting the raised expectations, say analysts, or risk exacerbating mounting discontent about corruption, inequality, pollution and other woes.

"They are trying to improve the system of governance to keep the party in power," said Scott Kennedy, Beijing-based director of the Indiana University research centre for Chinese Politics and Business.

Li, the new premier, will publicly address such concerns immediately after the NPC closes on March 17 when he holds his only news conference of the year.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130304/china-sets-2013-economic-growth-at-75-npc-opens