China rejects comparison with N. Africa uprisings
BEIJING - March 14, 2011 (WPVI) -- China's premier on Monday rejected any comparison between his country and the Middle East and North African nations where popular uprisings toppled long-serving autocrats.
In a wide-ranging news conference at the close of the annual legislative session, Wen Jiabao also said the country would tackle rising prices, but was wrestling with finding the right mix between creating jobs and fighting inflation.
Handling politically volatile price rises is crucial to maintaining stability in China, where millions spend half their salary or more on food and a yawning gap between rich and poor underscores endemic corruption.
Wen passed over China's earlier criticisms of the anti-government protests in Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere as harbingers of chaos, instead drawing a stark contrast between his government and the targeted regimes.
"We have followed closely the turbulence in some North African and Middle Eastern countries. We believe it is not right to draw an analogy between China and those countries," Wen said.
"I believe the Chinese people have also seen that the Chinese government has taken serious steps to address the challenges and problems in China's economic and social development," he said.
Economic growth averaging 10 percent over the past two decades has improved living standards and provided jobs for China's population of 1.34 billion, as opposed to the economic stagnation fueling discontent in the Middle East and North Africa.
China has also established precedents for leadership handovers that limit party heads to two five-year terms in office, preventing decades-long rule by corrupt despots.
The National People's Congress that closed Monday promised higher social spending, controls on inflation and measures to urgently close the divisive rich-poor gap, betting that rising living standards and better services will dampen growing public expectations for political change.
The emphasis comes as the government seems increasingly anxious about online calls of unknown origin urging Chinese to stage peaceful rallies every Sunday like the ones in Tunisia and Egypt. Beijing has been smothered under ever-heavier security since the Internet messages first appeared more than a month ago, although no protests have emerged.
Wen also repeated vague remarks about the need for political reforms to consolidate economic gains, but said the expansion of direct elections for local leaders would be gradual. Currently, Chinese only directly elects village heads who wield little authority.
The congress' speaker, Wu Bangguo, last week again ruled out the possibility of China instituting a multiparty system or a separation of powers as in the West.
Wen's comments came after the congress' nearly 3,000 members approved an economic blueprint for the next five years that calls for a shift from rapid economic growth to higher quality, more sustainable development with a greater emphasis on services and broader distribution of wealth.
The 12th Five-Year Plan could drive a far-reaching transformation of the world's second-largest economy from the world's low-cost factory floor into an enormous consumer market.
The congress also approved the national budget that boosts spending 12.5 percent this year, with bigger outlays for education, job creation, low-income housing, health care, pensions and other social insurance.
The budget for police, courts, prosecutors and other domestic security is projected to exceed the usually favored military budget for the first time in years, climbing 13.8 percent to $95 billion. China's defense budget, the world's second largest after the U.S., rose 12.7 percent this year to about 601 billion yuan ($91.5 billion).
china, africa, revolt, revolution, national/world
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