China vows to address stifling smog, terror threat
Tourists wear protective masks while walking at the Bund under heavy haze in Shanghai, China, Thursday, Dec. 26, 2013. (AP / Eugene Hoshiko)
Gillian Wong, The Associated Press
Published Tuesday, March 4, 2014 10:36PM EST
BEIJING -- China's government vowed to address long-festering complaints about choking smog while promising to crack down harder on the new threat of terrorism and promote unity among the country's sometimes restive ethnic minorities.
In his first annual policy speech, Premier Li Keqiang also pledged to move more people into the middle class, cut government waste and push further with President Xi Jinping's signature campaign to fight the rampant official corruption that has undermined public faith in the Communist Party.
Li's speech at Wednesday's opening of China's annual ceremonial legislature comes as the government confronts ethnic unrest in the far western region of Xinjiang that has intensified over the past year. On Saturday, China saw the first big terror attack outside Xinjiang blamed on militants from that region -- a slashing attack at a train station in Kunming that killed 29 people and wounded 143.
The meeting's nearly 3,000 delegates from across the country observed a moment of silence for the victims of the attack as the session opened.
Li did not specifically mention Saturday's attack in his policy report, but said China would toughen its controls on public order, "crack down hard on violent crimes of terrorism, safeguard China's national security, create good public order and work together to ensure public security in China."
Chen Fengxiang, an NPC delegate from Hubei, said during the session that the government would take stronger preventative measures following the attack by black-clad assailants wielding large knives.
"They lost their senses, and we must crack down harshly and take strict measures in preventing the violence," Chen said.
The government will work harder to reduce pollution by shutting more coal-fired furnaces and controlling the tainting of rivers, Li said. He referred to the stifling smog that creeps over increasing areas of China and the fouling of the country's air, water and soil as "nature's red-light warning against the model of inefficient and blind development."
Much of Li's report served to further define priorities that had been outlined after a party policy meeting in November, which included plans to make the world's second-largest economy more open and competitive.
The government released details on its budget for the coming year, signalling a 12.2 per cent increase in military spending to $132 billion. That followed last year's 10 per cent increase to $114 billion, the highest military budget for any nation other than the U.S.
There has been a sharp increase in tensions between China and Japan in the past 18 months over control of a string of tiny uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. While becoming increasingly assertive in its own territorial claims, Beijing has at the same time accused Japan of renewed militarism while dwelling on Tokyo's history as an aggressor during World War II.
"We will safeguard the victory of World War II and the postwar international order, and will not allow anyone to reverse the course of history," Li said.
Associated Press writers Didi Tang, Joe McDonald, Christopher Bodeen and Ian Mader contributed to this report.