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China aims to temper growth with help for poor citizens
Richard McGregor, FT Syndication Service

BEIJING: China will continue to pursue high-speed economic growth, according to a recent top-level policy pronouncement, but will attempt to temper its impact by improving social security, the health system and the incomes of its poorest citizens.
The blueprint, which will form the core of the latest five-year plan for the economy, enshrines many of the policies that have been pushed by Hu Jintao to narrow the rich-poor gap since he became president in 2003.
The communiquê was released after a four-day closed meeting of the party's 354-member central committee in Beijing, which approved a draft of the latest economic plan spanning five years from 2006.
It stresses the need to strengthen environmental protection and sets benchmarks to improve energy efficiency, two reforms the party believes are needed to anchor the high growth targets.
"We need to put greater emphasis on social equity, enhance efforts in adjusting income distribution and strive to alleviate the tendency of the widening income gap between regions and parts of society," the state media said, quoting the communiquê.
In keeping with previous forecasts, the party, and by extension the government, has set a target of at least doubling economic output between 2000 and 2010. The average gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate in the first five years of this decade has been 8.7 per cent.
While Chinese leaders have been happy with the headline growth and large expansion in foreign trade over the past five years, they have become increasingly alarmed about a rash of social problems.
China has seen a big increase in protests and riots in the past year, ranging from farmers angry at the pollution or theft of their land, to a widespread concern about the virtual collapse of the welfare system.
Between 1993 and 2003, the number of people with no medical insurance rose from 900m to 1.0bn -- about 80 per cent of the population -- according to official figures.
The communiquê openly acknowledged rising "internal conflicts" and their roots in the failure of growth to benefit many people. "We must strive to address the problems which most concern, most affect and which are most realistic for the people," it said.
The communiquê reaffirmed policies the government has been pushing for two to three years: specifically the need for local enterprises to develop their own technology and brands.
"We must support enterprises which are capable of going global," it said.
While the communiquê mentions the importance of "deepening" administrative reforms, there is no discussion of substantial political change or any suggestion that the party should give up its monopoly on power.