The mainland's growth over the past 25 years has astonished the world and established a new global economic order. But the focus on growth at all costs has come at a heavy price. The majority of the 1.3 billion population has not shared in the benefits. The growing wealth gap has been compounded by market reforms that have ravaged basic social services such as health care and education and put them beyond the reach of many. This recipe for discontent can be ignored only at the risk of social instability. That is why the Communist Party has moved to address it with a landmark shift of emphasis in the 11th Five-Year Economic Programme. The blueprint issued by a Central Committee plenum as a basis for planning further economic development identifies three key elements: people, the environment and resources. This is consistent with President Hu Jintao's 'people first' platform of more sustainable economic growth that promotes social equity and harmony, protects the environment and conserves resources. The widening of the economic agenda to include social objectives rather than targeting growth alone is welcome. The blueprint says the right things and promises to deliver on the public agenda of Mr Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao , established over the past two years. Indeed this is the first time a key official planning document has linked economic development and improving the overall standard of living as twin targets. Significant and inspiring as it is, however, the concept is the easy part. Implementing the changes effectively so that they penetrate to the grass-roots layer of the mainland's vast economy will be a test of Mr Hu's and Mr Wen's political courage and leadership qualities. At this stage it is only to be expected that the new five-year programme is long on plans and short on detail. Examples are broad goals for narrowing the wealth gap by raising income levels and living standards nationwide. It is hoped the detail will be fleshed out in the months ahead before it is submitted for adoption by the national legislature in March. If the goals are to be realised, the central government will have to show vigour and determination in pushing ahead with the party's renewed commitment to economic reform. This remains the key driving force in economic development. The most important economic reform is reducing the role of government in day-to-day business affairs. Political reform rates only a brief mention in the blueprint. It can only be hoped it will get more attention in the months ahead. Little was also said about the role of the private sector, the main driving force of employment and economic growth. Business still faces high regulatory thresholds and barriers. Infrastructure, banking and communications are among sectors that should be opened up more to private enterprise. The Central Committee communique rightly acknowledges the need to pursue reform with more determination if there are to be 'breakthroughs' in economic and social development. Tax, finance and fiscal policies are mentioned as priority areas for reforms. The government should push ahead with them to enhance its ability to manage stable economic growth and properly fund essential services such as education and health care, which have been left to fend for themselves. The aim of using 20 per cent less energy for each percentage point of output growth is a step in the right direction towards better conservation and environmental protection policies. Beijing should go further and establish a green gross domestic product index to measure the impact of development on the environment. The blueprint for the next five-year programme is the first plan Mr Hu has produced since the full retirement of his predecessor, Jiang Zemin . It puts Mr Hu's personal stamp on the mainland's future course. Widespread support from the most senior party figures suggests that he is in a strong position to see it through.