Tough issues are put on the agenda
Nailene Chou Wiest and Gary Cheung in Beijing
The 10th Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference opened yesterday with a promise to tackle tough issues ranging from social stability and the needs of disadvantaged groups to arbitrary levies and rural reforms.
CPPCC delegates have become increasingly outspoken as economic reforms increase the gap between rich and poor. They have also become vocal in their attacks on widespread corruption.
The advisory group has no actual power, but its opinions are supposed to reflect the concerns of Chinese society. Only about 40 per cent of its more than 2,000 delegates are Communist Party members.
Its meeting is a prelude to the legislative session of the National People's Congress, which is due to start tomorrow.
The opening ceremony was presided over by Jia Qinglin, who is expected to take over from Li Ruihuan as the chairman of the CPPCC.
President Jiang Zemin, Communist Party General Secretary Hu Jintao, current members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, and former members like Li Peng, Wei Jianxing and Li Lanqing also attended.
Li Guixian, vice-president of the CPPCC said the conference had made contributions towards stability and unity as reforms progressed, pointing out that members of the advisory group were invited by Premier Zhu Rongji to advise the government on unemployment policies. The consultative conference played a special role in the interaction with Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, he said.
Zhou Tienong, a member of the CPPCC presidium, said that during the past five years, more than 17,000 resolutions were proposed, touching on every aspect of life in China.
Of the proposed resolutions, 44 per cent were related to economic matters, 28 per cent to science and education and 27 per cent to legal reforms.
Delegates spoke warmly of outgoing chairman Li Ruihuan, who is known for his easygoing, folksy style.
Fu Shiyuan, of the Chinese Medicine Research Institute, said: 'He would focus on one single theme in every [CPPCC] meeting. That gave delegates a sense of purpose.'
On the steps of the Great Hall of the People, delegates talked freely with assembled reporters.
Xu Qingping, dean of the People's University college of arts, said he was dismayed that the 'nine-year compulsory education' existed only on paper in many areas.
Delegates also said the government should help army veterans find civilian employment after they were discharged from military service.
Yu Quanyu, whose frank and biting commentaries made him one of the gadflies of the government, vowed that he would re-submit his resolution demanding the Minister of Finance give a full accounting of the proceeds from the sale of state properties.
Lau Nai-keung, a Hong Kong delegate since the late 1980s, said Li Ruihuan had helped raise the quality of the CPPCC's work during the past 10 years.
'The CPPCC has become more active during his tenure,' Mr Lau said. 'He demanded that the relevant government department reply to enquiries and motions by the delegates as soon as possible.'
Another Hong Kong delegate, Lee Chak-tim, described Mr Li as a pragmatic and no-nonsense leader.