China's Old Guard Bows Out, Xi All Set to Become Prez
China's old guard led by President Hu Jintao today bowed out of power after highlighting the communist giant's rise as a world power during their decade long rule, paving the way for new leader Xi Jinping to assume charge of the world's second largest economy.

Premier Wen Jiabao, who along with Hu steered China for the last 10 years, made his final bow before the 3,000 strong National People's Congress (NPC) after presenting a lengthy work report listing out achievements of his era, especially the nation's emergence as the world's second largest economy over taking Japan in 2011.

The NPC began its two-week long session here today during which the new leaders will take over reins from the outgoing leadership headed by Hu in what was regarded as a smooth power transfer considering speculation about the factionalism in the Communist Party of China (CPC).

Wen's 29-page report mainly focused on achievements like creating vast infrastructure with dozens of airports, thousands of kilometres of roads and high speed trains besides all round development of the world's most populous country.

But at the same time, the 70-year-old leader, who last year refuted allegations of his family accumulating USD 2.7 billion assets, called for unwavering efforts to combat corruption, excessive concentration power and strengthening of political integrity.

He also spoke about problems China faced, prominent of which is the "unbalanced, uncoordinated and unsustainable development".

Watched by 70-year-old Hu, Xi and other top leaders of the Party, Wen spoke of growing disparities between rich and poor and development gap between regions, potential risks in the financial sector and conflict between industrial development and environmental protection.

The NPC is set to formally elect 59-year-old Xi as President, 57-year-old Li Keqiang as Premier and other top leaders, names of which have already been finalised by the ruling CPC in its Plenum.

The NPC will also approve a government institutional reform plan.

While Wen received applause from delegates at the NPC, often described as the rubber stamp legislature for its routine endorsements of Party line, many netizens criticised the premier for failing to present specific solutions to looming challenges in their comments on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter.

"The report spent 50 minutes on achievement and three minutes listing problems. A great report indeed," one user was quoted by BBC as saying. "There are so many issues on the agenda, but it is useless just to deliver proposals!" wrote another.

One micro-blog thread soliciting policy ideas from average people has already received more than seven million hits. While some highlighted particular concerns, such as reform of the household registration system, or water and air pollution, while others spoke out on the wealth gap.

"Whatever (economic) increase there has been has only benefited corrupt officials; ordinary people are still poor," wrote one internet user on Tencent Weibo.

In his speech, Wen virtually justified 10.7 per cent increase in defence budget pushing the defence spending to USD 115.7 billion saying China should accelerate modernisation of national defence to strengthen military capabilities.

"We should resolutely uphold China's sovereignty, security, territorial integrity and ensure peaceful development", he said.

Wen's report set the country's economic growth target of this year at 7.5 per cent like last year taking into consideration the global down turn and steady fall in China's economic growth due to global downturn.

China GDP last year was set at 7.8 per cent.

Wen report also promised to curb the Consumer Price Index (CPI), the main gauge of inflation at around 3.5 per cent.

The report also vowed to create more than nine million new urban jobs and keep the registered urban unemployment at or below 4.6 per cent.

The government will work to ensure that the per capita income of residents increases in step with economic growth, according to the report which was distributed to media ahead of the meeting.

"China remains in an important period of strategic opportunities during which much can be accomplished," it said.

There are many favourable conditions and positive factors as well as a number of risks and challenges for China's economic and social development, the report said.

The profound impact of the global financial crisis persists, and the recovery of the world economy is full of uncertainty and not yet on a stable footing, the report said.
Emerging story. Watch this space for updates as more details come in
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