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Asia

Beijing opts for more social equality in bid to stay discontent

Most states can only dream of economic growth like China's, yet Beijing is putting the brakes on. The new five-year plan is less about turbocapitalism than social equality, as Beijing tries to appease the masses.

Police and security forces have been deployed en masse

Police and security forces have been deployed en masse

The Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square is closed to the public. Only the delegates of the People's Congress who have come to the capital from all over the country for their 10-day annual meeting are allowed in.

The area is crawling with police and security – rarely has the government been as nervous as this year.

However, as the Chinese complain about rising rents and food prices, the authorities know that they have to address the misgivings of the population.

Wen Jiabao acknowledges that the people have reason for disgruntlement

Wen Jiabao acknowledges that the people have reason for disgruntlement

Although the People’s Congress is little more than a body for rubberstamping the Communist Party’s policies, delegates can make their own proposals.

"What's most important to me is to develop agriculture, increase poor farmers’ incomes and the added value of agricultural products, and to ensure food safety," said one delegate who had traveled to the capital, Wang Yixiang.

Zhao Xiangping, another delegate from Hunan, agreed: "We have to create more jobs and distribute revenue better – ordinary people need more money in their purses."

Wen advocates balance and sustainability

Prime Minister Wen Jiabao also acknowledged in his speech that the Chinese people were dissatisfied about a range of issues, including education, healthcare and corruption. He said the government should solve the problems in a fast and satisfactory manner.

He announced that the party's goal was to fight inflation and to bring annual economic growth down to 7 percent

"We have to speed up the restructuring of economic development, promote innovation, save resources and protect the environment," he said. "We have to ensure that economic and social development is coordinated with the people. Our development has to be more balanced and more sustainable."

e police have been accused of being particularly harsh in recent weeks

The police have been accused of being particularly harsh in recent weeks

According to the new five-year plan, more money will go into social programs and citizens with low incomes will pay fewer taxes.

Poor regions, which are far from the big industrial cities, will get more subsidies. Farmers will get grants to buy refrigerators and washing machines.

"In the past five-year plan period, we focused more on growth," said Zhang Ping, the director of the National Development and Reform Commission. "In the next five-year plan period, we will focus more on guaranteeing and improving people’s livelihoods."

Critics don’t trust promises of social improvement

Despite these grand plans, whether matters will really improve for the disgruntled Chinese is debatable. The last five-year plan also promised social improvement.

The lack of social and political progress in China is why some anonymous online critics have called for protests inspired by the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia. This is also partly why the government has clamped down on any form of protest so harshly in the past two weeks.

Despite massive security dozens dared come out to protest across China at the weekend

Despite massive security dozens dared come out to protest across China at the weekend

On Sunday, over a dozen foreign journalists were detained by police in different cities. "We tried to get to the square that was cordoned off by police and soon after the demonstration began – it was tiny with 100 people at most – we were brought to an improvised police station that I suspect was set up only for this purpose," said Janis Vougioukas, a reporter with the German weekly Stern magazine, who was arrested in Shanghai.

In Beijing, some delegates criticized the security clampdown. "This is a question of stability and stability is what our country needs," said one from Shandong who refused to give his name. "I do not always agree with the government's approach. There are more democratic and legal ways of ensuring stability."

More online calls for demonstrations have been made – the protesters don’t seem interested in maintaining stability at the cost of the people.

Author: Anne Thomas
Editor: Thomas Bärthlein

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