Agenda turns from fast growth to faster transformation of the growth pattern The central government's promises to continue decent economic growth but significantly alter the way the benefits of that growth are distributed are feeding debate over development priorities. While 'adhering to economic development as its central task', Beijing is going to put 'the construction of a socialist harmonious society' - taken to mean greater social equality - in a 'more prominent position' on its work agenda, according to the communique released on the last day of an annual gathering of top party members. According to Xinhua, the sixth plenum marked the first time in 25 years that a Central Committee's plenary session was devoted to social issues. In one of few references to economic subjects in the three-part communique, 'stable and relatively fast growth' was highlighted as the nation's economic goal. Although there would be no back-pedalling from market reforms that have brought the country more than two decades of rapid economic growth, the plenum officially ushered in a new development direction focused on raising the lives of the poor and the underprivileged, analysts said. 'It by no means abandons the pursuit of economic growth. But Beijing is scrapping a long-standing policy of faster growth in favour of improving social services and narrowing a widening wealth gap,' said Qing Lianbin, a professor with the Central Party School. The wider spreading of wealth is not only going to ease social tension between the rich and poor, but also stimulate domestic demand and promote a healthier economic growth pattern, according to Jia Jianfang , another professor from the party's top academy. The country's 750 million to 800 million farmers, most of whom live in poverty and have little in the way of a social safety net, represent 'a missing market' that could be used for the country's more sustainable development, Professor Jia said. According to the communique, it is 'essential' for China to 'speed up the transformation of the economic growth pattern'. That transformation included ensuring growth was more evenly shared, was less investment-driven and less polluting, Professor Jia said. Some analysts suggested growth could suffer as an unintentional consequence of pursuing equality. 'Privatisation might slow down as a result and the private sector, which has been the main driver for the economic boom, might get a little ignored,' said a researcher from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences who declined to give his name. He also warned that more state intervention might foster inefficiency and corruption. But analysts seem to agree the communique contains a clear admission by the party elite that many things are going wrong in China.