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Economic concerns to dominate China's parliament

By Jaime FlorCruz, CNN Beijing Bureau Chief
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China's Wen sets lofty goal
  • A 4 trillion yuan ($586 billion) stimulus plan helped China record GDP growth
  • Chinese leaders acknowledge growing rich-poor divide as undermining social stability
  • China's parliament meets in full session annually to endorse Communist Party policies
  • No major personnel changes expected

Beijing, China (CNN) -- China's parliament opens its annual session on Friday, as policymakers seek answers to some Western sounding problems. The National People's Congress is expected to tackle boosting people's incomes, bridging the rich-poor divide, curbing rampant corruption and mitigating environmental degradation.

"In Chinese traditional life, three things are most important -- it's food, clothing and housing," says NPC spokesman Li Zhaoxing, responding to a Chinese reporter's question on what China plans to do to stabilize the sky-rocketing home prices.

Premier Wen Jiabao will give his annual work report -- the equivalent of a "state of the nation" address -- on Friday.

He is expected to announce the government's economic growth targets, annual budgets and other policy measures aimed at keeping China's strong economic growth.

That includes an expected 7.5 percent increase in China's defense budget for 2010, down from last year's annual increase of 14.9 percent.

China reported that last year it recorded an 8.7 percent GDP growth, defying global economic trends.

That was largely achieved using a 4 trillion yuan ($586 billion) stimulus plan that was allocated to boost government spending, create jobs and boost domestic demand.

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Chinese planners hope to sustain the fast growth rate while containing the dangers of inflation and the bubbles in stock market and real estate sectors.

China's economy has boomed in recent years, but the expansion has been uneven.

During the past 20 years since Deng Xiaoping initiated China's reform program, an estimated 300 million people have been lifted out of poverty. But around 135 million still live on less than $1 a day and nearly 10 million people have no access to electricity.

Chinese leaders acknowledge that the growing rich-poor divide is undermining social stability and weakening their control of the vast nation of 1.3 billion people.

On many occasions, President Hu Jintao has stressed that while economic development remains China's central task, his administration's long-term goal is to build a "harmonious society."

China's parliament meets in full session annually to endorse policies set by the ruling Communist Party.

It has gained more importance and clout over the years, serving as a platform for airing of public opinion and policy debates as part of the consensus-building process. Still, it remains a largely ceremonial body.

"The most significant role of the NPC is its legislative power," said Jingzhou Tao, a partner at the law firm Jones Day and adjunct professor at the Peking University Law School.

"Deputies to the NPC do have their say in submitting their bills and proposals. But the NPC has no actual power to elect the president or chairman of the military commission."

No major personnel changes are expected in this year's session.

Delegates will debate measures to correct disparities between booming cities and the impoverished hinterland.

As in previous years, security is tight around the Great Hall of the People, off Tiananmen Square and around the hotels that house over 3,000 NPC delegates who have gathered in the capital.

SWAT teams dressed in black uniforms patrol the area on foot, on motorcycles and vans.

They question people carrying bags and take away those who refuse to cooperate.

Beijing police have rounded up beggars and out-of-town petitioners who travel to Beijing to seek redress. Dissidents and civil rights activists have been placed under house arrest to preempt protests.