Premier Zhu Rongji - who is never shy about criticising others in public - is expected to give himself a glowing assessment during the opening plenum of the National People's Congress next Wednesday. The premier's speech is supposed to focus on his work last year and to look ahead to the coming 12 months, but most analysts believe Mr Zhu will make it his last hurrah. The premier's speech to fellow state councillors a month ago hinted at what is to come. 'Under the most extreme circumstances, I have done my utmost to build a socialist market economy with Chinese characteristics,' Mr Zhu told the State Council. 'I believe I have achieved what I set out to do.' While other senior leaders have in the past year fought over whether to retire at all, Mr Zhu has made it clear he was planning to resign with no regrets. 'I am proud of the unprecedented rapid development of the Chinese economy over the years as a result of the nation's pro-active fiscal policy,' Mr Zhu said during the NPC last March. 'The government's pro-active financial policy and prudent monetary police have been working well - the Chinese economy would otherwise have collapsed.' Not only did the mainland economy not collapse one year after its entry to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) as some predicted, it is well on its way to seeing growth of 7 to 8 per cent this year. 'Most countries experienced deterioration of their current accounts and depreciation of their currencies in the initial years of their WTO membership,' said Huang Yiping, China economist with US brokerage house Salomon Smith Barney in Hong Kong. 'In China, imports grew very rapidly in 2002, up 21 per cent. Export growth was even higher, 22 per cent. The trade surplus rose to US$30 billion [HK$233.4 billion], compared to US$23 billion in 2001,' he said. Mr Zhu will speak of how China will continue to focus on reforms of state-owned enterprises, fiscal policy, the financial sector and social welfare. He will also point to further amendment of more than 2,000 laws to make them WTO compliant. He is likely to address the fact that China's gross domestic product grew by 8 per cent last year, reaching more than 10.4 trillion yuan while the rest of the world was in economic decline. The premier will also touch on his pet project to crack down on tax cheats, with officials recovering a record 35 billion yuan in delinquent taxes in 2002. Analysts do not expect the in-coming leaders to announce any significant changes to the economic programme. 'This is a transition,' said Andy Xie, a managing director at US brokerage house Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, in Hong Kong. 'The major changes will only occur one year after the fourth generation takes over. The new leadership wants stability.' Economists expect Mr Zhu's pro-active fiscal policy to continue, but the issuing of government debt to decrease in 2003. Debt-wise, the nation is far from danger. According to Hu Binliang, an economist and professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, the mainland had an outstanding domestic debt of 1.93 trillion yuan and foreign debt of US$165 billion at year-end 2002, for a combined total of only 32 per cent of gross domestic product, far lower than many developing countries. All eyes, of course, will be on incoming premier Wen Jiabao. However, economists do not expect Mr Wen to make any drastic announcements beyond what already has been set in motion: the creation of super-commissions to oversee various parts of the economy, resulting in the mergers of dozens of existing commissions and ministries. Mr Zhu probably will not give a press conference, whereas the incoming premier, Mr Wen, will. But there is no question that Mr Zhu's first press conference laid the groundwork for China's current success. When he took office back in 1998, after five years as an executive vice-premier and central bank governor, Mr Zhu announced the 'one guarantee, three achievements and five reforms' programme. Mr Zhu promised then that he would deliver stable economic growth, while at the same time cut state administration in half, restructure state-owned enterprises and the nation's decrepit state-run banking system. He also promised he would reform taxation, the health and social welfare system, housing, capital markets and agriculture. Although Mr Zhu admits he has not completed all he set out to do, namely building a social security system, he believes he achieved everything else. Most analysts agree. 'What he wasn't able to achieve, he was able to get off to a good start,' said Laurence Brahm, a Beijing-based political economist.