China sets 2013 economic growth at 7.5% as NPC opens

China on Tuesday targeted economic growth of 7.5 percent in 2013 and vowed an unwavering fight against corruption as the world's second-largest economy opened its annual parliament session.

The GDP figure was contained in Premier Wen Jiabao's "work report", his opening address to about 3,000 delegates from across the country at the National People's Congress, China's rubber-stamp parliament.

Wen, who is coming to the end of a decade in office, bowed deeply to the delegates arrayed under a giant red star in Beijing's Great Hall of the People before beginning his farewell speech, which was 29 pages long in English.

The government also laid down another double-digit rise in military spending, continuing the modernisation of the world's largest standing army at a time of mounting territorial tensions in Asia.

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.

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.

"We should unwaveringly combat corruption, strengthen political integrity... and ensure that officials are honest, government is clean and political affairs are handled with integrity," said Wen's prepared text.

The wealth of party leaders at all levels has become a burning issue in China, with foreign media reports last year focussing on the riches accrued by the families of Xi and Wen themselves.

Outside the hall, ordinary citizens were sceptical about the government's pledges.

"If delegates do not care for the people then there is never any chance of progress with political reform in the future," said a 60-year-old woman surnamed Lu, who was on her way to one of the capital's parks.

Another pensioner, Xian Lan, added: "What is the point of all these wasteful, expensive meetings when there are so many poor people in China?"

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," Wen's said in his speech.

"China is still under considerable inflationary pressure this year," he added. His report set this year's inflation target at 3.5 percent, after it came in at 2.6 percent in 2012.

"We should energetically change the growth model," Wen also said, amid demands that China revamp its investment and export-led growth in favour of domestic spending.

A separate government document laid down a 10.7 percent rise in defence spending 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 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.

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

Leaders must start meeting the public's 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.