President Jiang Zemin has led a high-powered delegation to Inner Mongolia, inspecting ailing state firms including military units. Accompanied by a host of senior ministers and Vice-Premier Wu Bangguo, Mr Jiang spent five days in the border province, home to thousands of military firms. Among the top ranking officials were Finance Minister Xiang Huaicheng, State Economic and Trade Minister Sheng Huaren and Zhang Junjiu, president of the China National Ordnance Industrial Corporation which oversees the rejuvenation of defence businesses. Hua Jianmin, a protege of Mr Jiang and a member of the Central Financial and Economic Leading Group, and Zeng Qinghong, a close aide to the President, were also part of the team. Xinhua said Mr Jiang inspected military units stationed in deserts. According to analysts, his trip indicated he was concerned about the lack of real progress in separating business from the military and heavy losses suffered by state firms in Inner Mongolia. National television showed Mr Jiang, wearing a Mao suit, visiting families of laid-off workers. He sat with Liang Hongxiang, a retired factory worker whose two sons had also lost their jobs, and told him difficulties were temporary as China no longer practised a planned economy. 'We are building a market economy,' Mr Jiang said holding Mr Liang's hand. 'The difficulties we face are inevitable'. Xinhua said the President instructed officials to make the alleviation of hardship a top priority. 'Party committees and governments must try their best to help laid-off workers, farmers in poverty-stricken areas and other people in need,' Mr Jiang said. The President was quoted by Xinhua as saying the ailing state-owned enterprise sector should remember it still had a pivotal role to play in development. 'Offering a basic livelihood and re-employment for laid-off workers is crucial for reform and development of state-owned enterprises,' he said. Mr Jiang urged officials to 'properly handle' issues concerning ethnic groups.