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China's National People's Congress To Focus On Economic Cures


And let's go next to China, where the National People's Congress has convened. China's Congress meets once a year in full. They gathered at a moment when China's economy is struggling. It grew last year at the slowest rate in a quarter century. And NPR's Anthony has been covering this session from Beijing. Hi Anthony.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: You know, I got to pass the building where the Congress meets once as a tourist - immense, as you would imagine, in China. What's it like to be there?

KUHN: You're right, Steve. It's a political theater on a grand scale. Every year for the first 2 weeks of March this time, you know, thousands of delegates of the National People's Congress stream towards the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square, which is decked out with red flags and hammer and sickle emblems. Throughout the city, security is extra heavy from Tiananmen Square, down to little groups of old men and ladies on street corners, the neighborhood watch committee who are on the lookout for bad guys to report to the police. And for us journalists, it's a time for us to pose some questions to the high and mighty. At the same time, they jam the Internet connections to the outside world so badly that it's very tough for us to file our reports.

INSKEEP: And we're hearing a little bit of chirping in your voice, which I take is because of the difficult Internet. Isn't this a bit of a contradiction? They've got this show of openness, of democracy, this democratic assembly. But they're intensely worried about what anybody says or does.

KUHN: Yes. Well, you know, this Parliament has a reputation as a rubber stamp. Basically, they decide whatever policies have already been given to them in advance. They have never voted down a bill put before them by the party of the government. But they have forced the government to take back bills and re-craft them and resubmit them so that they pass with not too many no votes. They're supposed to oversee the government, but they don't have much power to do that. They're supposed to represent the people, but most Chinese people have no idea who's representing or how. But it's not a complete sham. It's not a complete show. These are China's elites, and the government cares about what they think.

INSKEEP: So what do they plan to do about China's economy, which has seen quite a bit of trouble lately?

KUHN: Well, at this session of Parliament, they've laid out some very ambitious targets. They want the economy to grow at 6 and a half to 7 percent for the rest of the decade. And that means that per capita, average income for Chinese people is going to double during this decade. They're also planning to connect 80 percent of China's major cities by high-speed rail during the decade. And they want to pull all rural residence above the poverty line. We're talking about tens of millions of people who are living on less than a dollar a day.

INSKEEP: Now, tell me something. I'm sure an American politician would like to promise to double everybody's income in a period of time. Do Chinese officials know how they're going to do that really?

KUHN: Well, yes. I mean, if they can keep the economy growing at 6 and a half to 7 percent for the rest of the decade, that'll do it. Of course, for China it's the slowest in a quarter-century. But it's one of the fastest rates of growth in the rest of the world.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Anthony Kuhn. He is reporting from the National People's Congress in Beijing. Anthony, thanks.

KUHN: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.
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