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Words, not actions, are most worth watching when China’s National People’s Congress meets each year. While the votes and public debates routinely validate decisions made much earlier, speeches and press conferences around the gathering give a glimpse of what the government considers most pressing.
Premier Wen Jiabao’s press conference at the congress’s closing Friday was no exception. Wen held forth on everything from Tibet to Taiwan, but spoke at greatest length about China’s plans to grow its economy by 8 percent despite the global financial crisis. Much of the government’s $586 billion stimulus package will focus on China’s poorer, left-behind areas – the rural countryside where the vast majority of the population still lives and works. Separate health care and education reforms are also aimed at improving the living standards of farmers, who earn on average less than a third of what their urban counterparts make.
But the chasm between rural and urban China is wide and deep, and will be difficult to bridge, Wen noted. At this point, China’s economic health depends in large part on its rural population: how much they earn and what they buy. The government hopes a push to make them bigger consumers can help take the edge off the drain in global demand for Chinese goods. It’s an incredibly steep climb.
“No matter how much investment you make in the countryside, it will not be enough,” the premier said.