The 11th National People's Congress was declared 'a complete success' yesterday by Wu Bangguo, head of the national legislature. To the outside world, however, whatever the congress may have accomplished has been overshadowed by the outbreak of violence in Tibet last week. The protests and riots in the far western part of the nation have distracted public attention from the central government's reports on its performance in the past year and its agenda. The annual legislative session closed after endorsing the leadership of President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao for five more years and a new lineup of vice-premiers and ministers, including the heads of five new 'super ministries'. The two leaders have renewed their pledges to achieve social harmony and put the people first by building a more equitable and prosperous country. But events over the past weeks have shown just how difficult it will be to achieve these goals. The country faces ethnic and secessionist unrest from minorities in Tibet and Xinjiang, spiralling inflation and other economic problems at home and frustrated ambitions aboard. The Beijing Olympics - which was intended to be a coming out party to celebrate China's rise to global status - has instead focused attention on the many deep-seated problems it faces. These range from pollution and labour exploitation to the suppression of civil liberties. The ejection of a group of Hong Kong journalists from Lhasa this week is another reminder of how far the country still has to go to achieve the image of a tolerant society it wants to project with the staging of the Olympics. Mr Wen has earmarked massive funding for housing, education, public health and social welfare. But rising inflation, which has passed 8 per cent, has hurt the poor most and can easily undermine any social programme, however well funded. Mr Wen rightly warned yesterday that soaring prices and inflationary pressure posed the most daunting challenges, especially as the world economy is heading for a slowdown. A more equitable distribution of wealth from the rich coastal regions to the country's interior would stimulate domestic demand and might help cushion the mainland from the impact of a possible slowdown in exports. But these take time to develop and the benefits are not immediate. In an attempt to trim bureaucratic fat and make government more efficient, the congress has approved the creation of five super ministries in charge of health, transport, environmental protection, industry and information, human resources and social security. However, similar exercises have rarely reduced the power of vested interests to protect their turf or made the administration more responsive to the public's demands. Meanwhile, China's attempt to acquire valuable foreign assets, especially in the United States, has raised alarm bells and is frequently blocked by Washington and lobby groups. Its investments in Africa are increasingly being questioned by human rights groups and scrutinised by governments there. Beijing's pledge not to interfere in the domestic affairs of other countries has come under attack. The country is now at a critical stage; it has moved beyond euphoria about its economic achievements and must confront the problems these have created. This will test the Beijing leadership to the outmost, particularly as it seeks to make the case in the coming five years that China is a responsible emerging world power.