By Chris Johnson
On March 5, China opened the first meeting of the 12th National People’s Congress (NPC). Two days earlier, the 12th Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) also held its inaugural gathering. The convening of these bodies, the so-called “two sessions,” or lianghui (literally “two meetings”), represents the final act of the once-in-a-decade leadership transition process kicked off by the 18th Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) last November.
The NPC will officially elevate new party chief Xi Jinping to the last of his key formal titles, the state presidency, and also will elect the CCP’s new second-in-command, Li Keqiang, to the premiership. The NPC also will appoint new leaders to all of the top positions in the State Council, China’s cabinet. Although not as attention-grabbing as the roll-out of the senior government appointments, the NPC features an important keynote address by departing Premier Wen Jiabao, as well as the release of important government spending projections for 2013, such as the defense budget and planned outlays for social benefits and other critical programs that signal the CCP’s policy priorities.
Not surprisingly, the government work report delivered by exiting Premier Wen highlighted many of the same themes stressed in the political work report delivered by President Hu Jintao at the Party Congress in the fall. Wen emphasized that China’s plans for expanding urbanization—which the CCP has clearly identified as the key to unlocking the next wave of substantial economic growth—would be handled prudently and that the scale of China’s megacities would be kept in check.
Wen also called for accelerating the reform of the household registration system and the delivery of “basic public services in urban areas to migrant workers” as part of the urbanization drive. In keeping with the emphasis on balanced and equitable growth in Hu’s political work report, Wen noted that the government will work to ensure that real per capita income for urban and rural residents increases in step with overall economic growth.
In terms of key economic targets, the report set a moderate GDP growth rate forecast of 7.5 percent, the same as that for 2012. Several of the other important targets and pronouncements highlight the regime’s continuing preoccupation with ensuring social stability amid rising popular expectations and a still uncertain global economic environment.
Wen pledged to keep the officially registered urban unemployment rate at or below 4.6 percent and lowered the official consumer price inflation target to 3.5 percent from last year’s 4 percent. The report also addressed the public outcry over environmental pollution, with Wen arguing the government “should give the people hope through our concrete action.” He announced that China will start monitoring fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in the urban megacities as well as all provincial capital cities, and will extend the monitoring to all cities at and above the prefectural level by 2015.
Christopher K. Johnson is a senior adviser and holds the Freeman Chair in China Studies at CSIS. Prior to joining CSIS, Mr. Johnson worked as a senior China analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency.