PREMIER Mr Li Peng made a confident delivery of his government work report at the opening of the NPC yesterday, even earning what appeared to be heartfelt applause from the delegates, especially when he mentioned Hongkong and the Olympics. Except for trouble clearing his throat at one point in his speech, Mr Li raced through his two-hour prepared speech without a hitch before a crowd of almost 3,000 delegates and hundreds of journalists and diplomats gathered in the Great Hall of the People. Last year, the premier received only perfunctory applause when reading out his work report, which was judged too conservative. Yesterday's delivery, in contrast, seemed to have struck a chord with the delegates, who applauded him with genuine patriotic fervour when he mentioned China's ''outstanding achievements in the 24th and 25th Olympic Games'' and when he spoke on Governor Mr Chris Patten's democratic reform package. Delegates clapped three times during Mr Li's remarks on Mr Patten's move to ''perfidiously and unilaterally'' propose a programme for ''major changes''. Their response to the speech may also have been warmer this year than in 1992 because the premier sounded more reformist. The speech was long on talk of economic reform and short on ideology - with Marx being mentioned just once. A diplomat said: ''The formula [for governing] seems to be well worked out and it's just a matter of applying it on a technocratic basis.'' The one area in which there was room for controversy was on economic growth. Mr Li set a target of eight per cent growth in the gross national product for 1993. An NPC delegate from Yunnan province, Mr Luo Yufu, said more than 10 per cent growth was appropriate. ''If growth is too slow, then the gap between China and developing countries will become larger,'' Mr Luo said. Sensing possible provincial objections, Mr Li covered himself by saying that the plan ''leaves some room for unforeseen circumstances - that is, the figure may be exceeded''. Politburo member Mr Qiao Shi, presiding over the congress, seemed to be a little ill at ease with the job he was taking over from out-going chairman Mr Wan Li. In voting on a procedural matter, he was somewhat hesitant in announcing the motion was passed.