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China vows to press on with 'painful' reforms as Congress ends

China's annual parliament has closed its 11-day session with a vote backing government reform plans. Premier Li Keqiang pledged hard-hitting measures to boost economic growth.

Some 3,000 delegates to the Chinese National People's Congress on Sunday voted in favor of the annual budget and Premier Li Keqiang's state-of-the-nation economic report as the nominal parliament's annual session came to a close.

The Congress has little or no legislative power, but serves as a platform for the ruling Communist Party to announce its planned reforms and economic strategies for the year.

The budget, which was voted through by some 86 percent of the delegates, includes a rise of 10.1 percent in annual military spending.

Although that is a smaller rise than last year's 12.2 percent, China has now increased its military budget by more than 10 percent annually for five years running, saying that the People's Liberation Army is in need of modernization. The budget does not include what is spent on importing and researching high-technology armaments.

The meeting also discussed measures to boost a slowing economy that last experienced its lowest growth rate in nearly 25 years with an expansion of just 7.4 percent.

Li earlier this month lowered China's growth target for 2015 to around 7 percent, with China's leaders saying such a rate is more sustainable than the double-digit growth seen over the past decades.

'A knife to one's own flesh'

Li Keqiang Photo: REUTERS/Jason Lee

Li also promised to continue fighting corruption

Speaking at a press conference after the conclusion of the meeting, Li repeated reform pledges that will see the government stepping back from economic intervention to promote growth.

Admitting that such measures would not be welcomed by "vested interests" that until now have benefited from government regulation, Li said the reforms would be pushed through nonetheless.

"This is not nail-clipping. This is like taking a knife to one's own flesh," he said.

"But however painful it might be, we are determined to keep going until our job is done."

The reforms will see the government continue to make it easier for new businesses to register, a measure that Li says has already resulted in a doubling of the number of private companies being set up.

Pollution problems

Chinese woman donning a face mask. Photo REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Air pollution in China is a continuing menace

Li also reiterated the government's vow to come to grips with pollution, which has become a major issue in the country, particularly following the release of a scathing documentary on the topic last month that was viewed by millions on Chinese video sites before being taken down by authorities.

"The Chinese government is determined to tackle smog and pollution," Li said, adding that "the progress we have made still falls short of the expectations of our people."

The heavy pollution that often afflicts China's cities is blamed on coal-fired power stations and industry, as well as emissions from the rapidly growing number of vehicles on Chinese roads.

tj/ng (FP, AP, dpa)

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