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China Prepares to Open Annual Legislative Session

  • Stephanie Ho

China's legislature, the National People's Congress, prepares to begin its annual session Wednesday. As VOA's Stephanie Ho reports from Beijing, some of the issues high on the agenda include holding a successful Olympics, blocking formal independence by Taiwan, streamlining the sprawling central government and curbing inflation.

Jiang Enzhu, spokesman for the National People's Congress, said the legislature will sign into law decisions made by the ruling Communist Party at a meeting last November.

The list of priorities include ensuring a smooth Olympics and opposing independence for Taiwan, a separately-governed island that Beijing considers part of Chinese territory.

Other major issues include a massive restructuring and consolidation of Chinese government agencies.

"We will explore ways of establishing bigger government departments with integrated functions," said Jiang. "We will try to devise a clear division of labor between the current government agencies, strengthen accountability and give those agencies powers commensurate with their responsibilities."

International observers are looking closely at one other significant topic being discussed: China's military budget. Jiang said China plans to increase military spending by nearly 18 percent this year, to more than $58 billion. This is the 18th year in a row of double-digit military spending increases.

The National People's Congress is expected to approve the military spending figures when delegates pass the country's overall budget during their two-week session.

In other issues, the spokesman quashed reports that a Tibetan youth Beijing named as the 11th Panchen Lama will become a high-ranking Chinese official this session. Jiang said Gyaltsen Norbu, who turned 18 last month, was not old enough at the time the list of deputies was drawn up.

"According to my knowledge, the Panchen Lama is not 18 years old yet, so he is not on the list of people's deputies for this session," said Jiang.

Tibetans regard Beijing's choice as a sham. The Dalai Lama's choice, Gendun Choekyi Nyima, disappeared from public view in 1995, when he was only six years old.

The National People's Congress session opens Wednesday and concludes March 14. During that time, the Chinese legislature will name the country's top leadership, including the heads of the courts and the central bank. President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao will be renamed to serve for a second five-year term.

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