China: Blueprint for future unveiled by leadership
CHINA’S new leaders struck a populist tone yesterday as they got down to the painstaking work of governing, promising cleaner government, less red tape and more fairness.
In appearances that marked the completion of a months-long, orchestrated leadership transition, president Xi Jinping and premier Li Keqiang stressed the urgency of reining in runaway official corruption to restore the Communist Party’s frayed public credibility.
Mr Li, 57, pledged to slash official perks and government extravagance to free up money for social welfare programmes at a time of slower economic growth. He said there will be a ban on building new government offices and government payrolls will be reduced. Also facing a cut is spending on banquets, travel and cars – all of which has fuelled public anger and protests.
“If the people are to live a good life, their government must be put on a tight budget,” Mr Li said in his first news conference as premier.
Earlier, addressing the nearly 3,000 legislative deputies in the Great Hall of the People, Mr Xi, 59, promised to root out “corruption and other misconduct in all manifestations”.
He said people’s own aspirations must be part of “the Chinese dream” – a signature phrase he has used to invoke national greatness. “Each of us must have broad space to diligently realise our own dreams,” he said.
Though Mr Xi and Mr Li were installed in the top two positions of the party leadership in November, yesterday’s closing of the legislature means their government is now fully in place.
The legislature has now appointed Cabinet ministers, named Mr Li premier, gave Mr Xi the ceremonial title of president and thereby relieved their predecessors of office.
The legislature’s close also brought a concerted push to burnish the leaders’ image before a public that has grown more demanding as it has become more prosperous and better connected by the internet and mobile phones.
Expectations have run high in recent months that the new leadership would address social sore spots: close a wide wealth gap, curb the often capricious use of official power and clean up an environment degraded by the headlong pursuit of growth.
Both Mr Xi’s speech and Mr Li’s news conference were nationally televised. In them, they showed personality differences with their predecessors. Mr Xi appeared more commanding and comfortable with his authority than his predecessor, Hu Jintao. Mr Li was more direct and plainly spoken, if less sympathetic, than the grandfatherly Wen Jiabao, who loaded his news conferences with references to classical poetry.
Mr Li also gave a hint of his fluency in English, at one point correcting an interpreter’s translation of a comment.
Mr Li recalled being exiled to work in a poor rural village in his teens in the 1970s, like many in his generation under Mao Zedong’s radical rule, before market reforms and the reopening of universities brought change. The reforms, he said, “have lifted hundreds of millions of peasants out of poverty and it has changed the life course of many individuals, including me”.
Both events were heavily scripted. Questions by Chinese and foreign reporters at Mr Li’s 115-minute news conference were largely prearranged. Still, in a system where interaction between the leadership and the media is rare, the event provided a window into the leaders’ personalities and thinking.
“It takes time to see if he can do a good job or not, but the language, logic and way of expression finally rid themselves of the shadow of old times. It’s not easy,” Xie Wen, a technology entrepreneur, said on his Sina Corporation micro-blog, which has 164,000 followers.
Mr Li did not mention calls from experts to introduce public disclosure of official assets, but he said: “Clean government should start with oneself. Only when one is upright in oneself can he or she ask others to be upright. This is an ancient adage, but also the truth. Since we have chosen government service we should give up the thought of making money. We will readily accept the supervision of the whole society and the media.”
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