Foxconn lifts wages at China factories David Barboza February 20, 2012
BEIJING: Foxconn Technology, one of the biggest manufacturers of products for Apple, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and other electronics companies, said it would sharply raise workers' salaries at its Chinese factories.
Foxconn said that salaries for many workers would immediately jump by 16 to 25 per cent, to about $US400 ($373) a month, before overtime. The company also said it would reduce overtime hours.
Labor rights groups say that over the years, many Foxconn plants have violated Chinese labour laws by pushing workers to endure excessive amounts of overtime.
Criticism has grown over working conditions at several Apple suppliers in China, including Foxconn, which employs more than 1 million workers to assemble some of the world's most popular devices.
Apple announced last Monday that the Fair Labor Association, a nonprofit group, would provide independent audits of its supplier factories in China and elsewhere. Apple said the group's findings would be made public. The association began inspecting Foxconn operations in China this week.
Apple and Foxconn, which is based in Taiwan, have strongly denied allegations that the workers are treated poorly. But Apple has acknowledged in its own audits that some of its suppliers in China violate Apple's own code of conduct, with instances of child labour, forced overtime and unsafe working conditions and evidence that employees are sometimes exposed to hazardous and toxic chemicals.
In recent years, Foxconn facilities in China have experienced worker suicides and labour rights groups have documented varied abuses.
Last year, four workers were killed and about 20 were injured because of a dust explosion at a Chinese factory that was producing the Apple iPad.
According to Bloomberg News, the auditor at the Fair Labour Association said recently that he had already found ''tonnes of issues'' at Foxconn plants. He did not detail the problems.
A Foxconn spokesman could not be reached for comment.
Walls close in on Tibetan nomads promised better life
Philip Wen February 20, 2012
One size fits all approach … Tibetan nomads are being moved into villages like Tongde to row upon row of identical apartments. Photo: and Sanghee Liu
Losang, a dark, stocky man with a shock of jet black hair and a beaming grin, is known as the happiest man in his village. The former nomad cackles with infectious laughter after almost every sentence, even when telling the story of his own misfortune.
Chinese authorities told him if he gave up herding his yaks and sheep in exchange for a house in a Tibetan nomad resettlement camp, he could buy a car, open a business and get government support. He has the house - two rooms each about three metres across and four metres long - but not much else. ''We were happy to move, but now there is nothing,'' Losang, 46, says, laughing loudly at his own expense.
Having moved into his new house in Maixiu, Qinghai, three months ago, he quickly found employment opportunities were much more limited for him and his 25-year-old son than he was promised. He now survives on the odd construction job during the summer, where he can make about RMB70 ($10.40) on a good day. ''There are no good jobs, we just dig holes,'' Losang says. ''We're nomads, we're not used to that work.''
Losang and his family are one of more than 100,000 families who have been moved from the grassland plateaus into permanent homes in government-commissioned nomad resettlement camps in Qinghai, as part of a scheme involving the Tibetan-populated regions in the mountainous and remote western reaches of China.
Since 2009, Sichuan has ordered the construction of 1400 new communities for 100,000 households, enough to eventually resettle all of its Tibetan nomads. In Tibet, or the Tibetan Autonomous Region, 1.85 million herdsman and nomads, or 60 per cent of its total population, had been resettled as of last year.
In a recent article, a senior Tibet policymaker, Zhu Weiqun, indicated the party was now looking at the adoption of more overt assimilation policies. He identified reserving privileges for ethnic minorities as an obstacle to cohesion.
The resettlement policies stem from Beijing's stated wish to preserve the area's environment. Qinghai's Sanjiangyuan is China's largest nature reserve containing the headwaters of the country's three main rivers, the Yellow, Yangtze and Mekong. But it is suffering under the effects of climate change and the government says overgrazing by Tibetan nomad herds is exacerbating the problem. But rights groups say mining in the area should be stopped first. They also claim that nomads are actually being moved so their land can be mined in the future.
Another underlying motive is the desire to boost the region's socio-economic standing in much the same way as the rest of the country - through rapid urbanisation of its people.
Robert Barnett, the head of modern Tibetan studies at Columbia University in the US, lived in Tibet for six years until 2006. He says it is a blunt one-size-fits-all approach to think the only way forward is to put people in houses near roads and turn them into consumers.
''They are very clumsy in China at recognising that you can have different kinds of development and modernisation,'' he says.
One particularly large village, in Tongde, has row upon row of identical one-storey houses. And with space running out, Tongde is now building dozens of high-rise dwellings, similar to medium-density apartments in inner-city Sydney. There are also plans to provide centralised healthcare and education (in Mandarin). Tibetan nomads roam the grasslands at high altitudes in summer, usually in communities of up to two dozen, travelling wherever the grass is lush and weather fine. Their yaks are essential, used to carry tents and equipment and for their meat and milk, which is in turn used for butter and yoghurt. Even their dung is dried and burnt for fuel.
For Losang, a lifetime in the expansive grasslands of Qinghai's mountains has ended abruptly. He knows he is never likely to earn enough to accumulate a self-sustaining herd again, having spent most of the money he got from selling his herd on the RMB6000 payment for the house. The government covered the remainder (about RMB14000).
He finds he has greatly underestimated cost of living in a world where nothing comes free. ''When I was a nomad I ate meat everyday, drank yak milk tea and wore sheepskin robes, now I can't. I have to buy everything. And I even have to eat [vegetables],'' he says.
THE colourful Tibetan New Year festival of Losar usually means two weeks of song, dance and merriment with family and loved ones. But for many ethnic Tibetans, this year's Losar, which starts on Wednesday, will feel more like a wake.
''Everything is cancelled this year,'' Sonam, a 62-year-old nomad village elder in Zeku, tells the Herald over cups of yak butter milk tea and fried dough, both traditional staples of the Tibetan diet.
''Usually we burn incense in the morning and set off firecrackers at night, but this year we feel very sad about those who lost their lives for us, so we won't do it.''
The cancellations come amid intensifying unrest - and increasing military presence - in the Tibetan areas in Qinghai, Gansu, and especially Sichuan.
While much of the focus has been on the dramatic and desperate acts of those driven to set themselves alight, the mass protests, including a recent one in Yushu, Qinghai, have been made up mostly by villagers - and not just purely in solidarity with their respected monks.
Emotions in the numerous government-commissioned resettlement villages visited by the Herald ranged from silent frustration to barely-contained anger over a consistent range of issues: treatment of their monks, perceived restrictions on their own freedom to travel and practice their religion, and their loss of quality of life after being moved from herding yaks in the mountains into nomad resettlement camps.
''We heard what was happening [the protests on January 23] and were thinking of doing the same, but then we heard there were more than 3000 soldiers in the area, so we decided not to,'' says Namkha , a 55-year-old villager from Tongren, Qinghai. ''The temple leader told us not to for our safety, so we resisted our anger.'' Barnett says while it is important to point out that there was no deliberate attempt to destroy Tibetan culture, China's self-proclaimed record in preserving it has been ''erratic and uneven''.
''To modernise nomad lifestyle is to bring it to an end,'' he says. ''It's very hard to describe the nomad settlement policy, which is huge, as not an attack on a major aspect of Tibetan culture.''
Wilful or otherwise, the net result is the spectre of an ultimate eradication, possibly within the space of a generation, of a way of life that has existed for more than 4000 years.
Names have been changed to protect those interviewed for this report.
President Obama's page on Google's social network site has been inundated with messages in Chinese after restrictions in China were removed.
Every current topic on Mr Obama's Google+ page attracted hundreds of Chinese comments.
Some contributors made jokes; others said they were occupying the site in the style of western Occupy campaigns.
Google+ is normally blocked in China along with other social media that the authorities deem unacceptable.
Since Google+ was launched in 2011, software known informally as the Great Firewall had appeared to block it within China.
But on 20 February 2012 internet-users in many parts of China found they could gain access to the site - prompting some to suggest occupying it, in a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Occupy Wall Street campaign.
On 24 and 25 February, to the consternation of American readers, every current topic on President Obama's 2012 election campaign page attracted hundreds of comments, apparently from China.
Their exact provenance cannot be verified, but the expressions contributors used were in the style of mainland China and in simplified Chinese.
A few appealed for the liberty of the civil rights activist Chen Guangcheng, who is under house arrest.
Others asked about a recent political intrigue in south-west China, in which one of the country's top policemen, Wang Lijun, spent a day in the US consulate in Chengdu for undisclosed reasons.
But many simply voiced delight at their freedom to speak: they talked about occupying the furniture and bringing snacks and soft drinks.
The White House in Washington has not commented on the upsurge of Chinese interest in President Obama's campaign site.
But it has prompted one poster to suggest that if China ever abandoned its internet restrictions, the United States would have to protect its social media with a Great Firewall of its own.
Officials phasing out older, threatening slogans in favour of more upbeat ones to 'make family planning keep pace with the times'
* Mary Hennock in Beijing * guardian.co.uk, Monday 27 February 2012 16.00 GMT
A couple with a small child walk past a propaganda poster promoting the single child policy in Beijing. Photograph: Adrian Bradshaw/EPA
China's single child policy was once a source of pride to government planners, with slogans reflecting strict family planning laws emblazoned on buildings across the country.
But reminders of the policy's harshest excesses are being scrubbed away in an effort to create a softer message, with officials phasing out older, threatening slogans in favour of more upbeat ones.
According to the People's Daily, the aim is to "make family planning work keep pace with the times and go deep among the masses".
The single child policy is unlikely to be rescinded soon, because doing so would cause uproar among those denied second children. But it has frayed at the edges, with multiple groups, including ethnic minorities and the mothers of disabled children, being allowed a second child.
Family planners are also seeking subtler approaches, such as more teenage sex education.
Slogans from the early days of the policy, which was launched in 1979, stressed punishments for couples who had unplanned pregnancies. Typical examples included: "If sterilisation or abortion demands are rejected, houses will be toppled, cows confiscated".
These slogans conveyed "coldness, constraint and even threats. They easily caused resentment in people and led to social tension", the People's Daily said.
A report entitled Outdoor Propaganda for Population and Family Planning has called for fresh slogans, the newspaper said. Work to scrub away remnants of the old ones began in 2007. Recent slogans will also be reviewed for suitability.
Newer slogans tend to promote the benefits of having fewer children or advocate gender equality, for instance: "Lower fertility, better quality; boys and girls are all treasures". A current slogan warns: "Mistreatment and abandonment of baby girls is strictly prohibited."
An unintended consequence of the single child policy has been widespread, though illegal, sex-selective abortion, and infanticide.
Forced abortions continue to take place, human rights groups say. Chen Guangcheng, a lawyer, remains under house arrest in Shandong province for campaigning on behalf on local women. Police have prevented foreign journalists from visiting him.
Wall slogans are no longer the main method of propaganda, because sex information is widely available online. Recent experiments with sex lessons for primary school children, using anatomically explicit dolls, caused controversy.
Teenage sex education is increasingly accepted and focuses on relationship-building, making limiting family size a more easily digestible message.
Propagandists have been busy modernising and softening other slogans and imagery felt to be out of date and potentially counterproductive prior to the March annual meeting of the National People's Congress.
Photos of the model soldier Lei Feng, a Maoist youth hero, have emerged showing him astride a motorbike, sporting a fashionably floppy haircut.
Lei was a model soldier who died in 1962, aged 22, when a telegraph pole fell on him. Lei was known for selfless service to his comrades. Chairman Mao coined the slogan "learn from Lei Feng". A national Lei Feng day started in 1963 on 5 March.
Exhortations to learn from Lei continue to be used. A more cynical catchphrase is "I'm not Lei Feng", used to reject, or mock, a request the speaker finds unreasonable. But debate has emerged about whether China's youth can still relate to him.
Past role models were also usually depicted as "overly self-controlled and lofty to the extent of being like gods", the paper said.
The "de-deification of Lei Feng will promote his appeal," according to the Global Times newspaper.
China facing 'middle-income trap' Peter Cai February 28, 2012 - 2:38PM
The World Bank warns China that it must implement far-ranging economic and political reforms to avoid the risk of stagnation, according to a report released on Monday.
The Bank urged Beijing to adopt a new development strategy to avoid the fate of falling into the ‘‘middle-income trap’’, a misfortune that had befell on many developing countries before.
For China to achieve its goal of becoming a high-income economy, it must address urgent issues such as the meddling role of the government in the economy, widening social inequality and worsening environmental problem.
The outgoing president of the Bank, Robert Zoellick, told a gathering of Chinese senior ministers in Beijing that China’s path to economic greatness was not guaranteed without further reform.
‘‘We should, however, be wary of straight-line trends. As China’s leaders know, the country’s current growth model is unsustainable," he said.
The twin engines of China’s economy are both showing signs of strain under domestic and international pressures. A growing chorus of policy-makers and economists are calling for a fundamental shift in the growth model.
There are signs that the message has started to sink in.
Mr Zoellick said, ‘‘China has recognised the challenges of moving away from export- led growth and over-reliance on investment toward greater domestic demand and consumption.’’
The report suggested that the past strategy that had work so well was no longer suitable for the new set of challenges that China must confront now. At its core, the new strategy demanded the government to change its role from that of an active participant in the market to that of a arbiter of rules.
"The government needs to withdraw from direct involvement in production, distribution, and resources allocation, it will need to focus greater attention on designing and implementing the policy and regulatory framework,’’ says the report.
The call for reform by the Bank was echoed by the Chinese media as well. The latest editorial from the influential Caixin magazine, China's equivalent of The Economist, launched an attack on the ills of Chinese state capitalism.
‘‘To attribute the success of China’s past economic achievement to state capitalism is not only a mistake but it could also misguide the future of country’s economic development,’’ says Caixin.
‘‘The state-owned enterprises occupies a disproportionately share of the economy and including the monoploy over all the strategic industries. They are expanding aggressive and the advance of state capitalism could only reinforce monopoly and reduce competition. Its negative impact on a fair market is becoming more and more prononced.’’
Finally, it warned that ‘‘if the steps of reform cannot catch-up with the advance of state capitalism, the next crisis will be that of state capitalism.’’
China has hit out at comments by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on its stance on Syria.
A foreign ministry spokesman called the comments unacceptable, and the official Communist Party newspaper described the criticism as "super arrogant".
Mrs Clinton on Friday called China and Russia's veto of a UN resolution on Syria "despicable".
The Chinese criticism came a day after Syria held a national referendum on a new constitution, amid violent unrest.
The referendum calls for a multi-party parliamentary election within three months. The opposition has dismissed Sunday's vote as a farce, as at least 30 more deaths were reported around the country.
Ms Clinton made her remarks at the Friends of Syria conference in Tunisia, a meeting of diplomats boycotted by China and Russia that sought an end to the crisis.
The US Secretary of State said it was "quite distressing" to see two Security Council members using their vetoes "while people are being murdered".
"It is just despicable and I ask whose side are they on? They are clearly not on the side of the Syrian people."
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, when asked for Beijing's response, said China "cannot accept that at all", AFP news agency reported.
Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily was more outspoken.
"The United States' motive in parading as a 'protector' of the Arab peoples is not difficult to imagine," it said in a commentary. "The problem is, what moral basis does it have for this patronising and egotistical super-arrogance and self-confidence?"
"Even now, violence continues unabated in Iraq and ordinary people enjoy no security. This alone is enough for us to draw a huge question mark over the sincerity and efficacy of US policy," it added.
While China is traditionally resistant to interference in other countries' affairs, it has come under intense pressure on Syria.
Beijing believes that Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad should be allowed to carry out reforms to try and end the bloodshed, says the BBC's Martin Patience in Beijing.
But observers say the power to end the violence lies with Beijing and Moscow, which have so far provided the diplomatic support that has shielded Syria.
On 4 February they blocked a resolution in the UN Security Council backing an Arab plan condemning the crackdown and calling on Mr Assad to step down.
Article written by Damian Grammaticas Beijing correspondent
China's stake in the Syria stand-off
In Tunisia, representatives of 70 nations are trying to find ways to pressure Syria into accepting a ceasefire, to allow humanitarian access, and to show support for Syria's opposition.
But it's in Beijing and Moscow, far away, where the power to end Syria's bloodshed really lies.
So far China and Russia have provided the diplomatic support that has shielded Syria from international pressure.
Some say their actions have emboldened the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria to believe it can act with impunity.
They are the two major powers that have blocked efforts in the UN Security Council and the Arab League to force Syria to halt its military offensive against its own people. They have vetoed UN resolutions and stalled efforts to condemn the actions of the Assad regime.
Russia has clear interests in Syria. It has long given military and diplomatic support to the Syrian government. It supplies Syria with many of its guns, tanks and shells. If the Assad regime fell Russia would lose much of its influence in the Middle East.
Much harder to explain is why China has taken the same line, and why it continues to stand so firmly against tougher action over Syria.
China does not have direct interests at stake in Syria in the same way that Russia does. It does not sell Syria many weapons or rely on it as an ally.
In fact, standing up now puts China in an uncharacteristically exposed position. China's diplomacy is usually about keeping a low profile and leaving others to take the lead.
So what is China's motivation? There are many theories.
First is the explanation that China itself gives, publicly at least, that it has a long-standing policy of non-intervention and is sticking to that.
But this is not easy to square with the fact that China actively decided to veto the UN resolutions. It didn't need to use its blocking power. Russia seemed set to frustrate action at the UN anyway.
China could have left Russia to veto action, and allowed the resolution to fail without sticking its own neck out.
Second is the explanation that this is a sign of China's growing assertiveness - that China is starting to stand up for what it believes in.
But China's veto has left Beijing open to criticism that it sides with dictators and repressive regimes and is encouraging Syria's crackdown. So this would be an odd issue to choose to make a stand over.
Third is the idea that China and Russia were outraged by what happened in Libya - where they allowed a UN resolution imposing a no-fly zone but then saw it used by Western powers to bring down the Gaddafi regime - and don't want a repeat of that experience.
But this also doesn't stand up to much scrutiny. China's diplomats at the UN are said to be some of its best. The idea they were blindsided and failed to realise that the UN resolution would bring Gaddafi under enormous pressure makes them look foolish and hardly seems credible.
Even if it were true, it does not explain why China has blocked new UN resolutions that explicitly do not allow for intervention.
Fourth is the possibility that China is worried that radical Islamic groups are backing the uprising in Syria. Beijing may be concerned that their influence could end up spreading down the old Silk Road to China's own Muslim populations in Xinjiang.
This is certainly a concern for China but probably not enough to shape its whole policy towards Syria.
Fifth, and plausible, is the fact that China along with Russia, both authoritarian states themselves, are concerned about the way repressive regimes have been falling in the Arab Spring.
Both Beijing and Moscow have shown they are concerned about the ripples from the Middle East, and both believe the UN Security Council has been used to help topple regimes the West does not like.
So backing Syria may be a way of trying to stop the dominoes falling.
The weakness with this argument is that the Assad regime may be doomed already.
When the man expected to be China's next president, Xi Jinping, was in Washington this month, the Obama administration told him that China risks being on the wrong side of history over Syria. China could see its standing in the Middle East badly damaged.
China's stance has already left it quite isolated. In the UN General Assembly this month, 137 nations voted to back the Arab League's plan to end the Syrian crisis, while only 12 nations, including China, opposed it.
Arab nations have implored China to back them but it has declined to.
So the final explanation is that Beijing is acting alongside Moscow as a deliberate choice, building a coalition of interests.
Russia, with its bigger stake in Syria, may have sought China's help. China may have calculated that to abstain in the UN would have left it open to criticism anyway, and it is better to take an active position alongside Russia.
China may now be in a position to ask Russia to return the favour at a later date, perhaps over North Korea.
Beijing's Global Times newspaper, linked to the ruling Communist Party, said in Friday's editorial: "What's important is that China co-ordinates well and maintains a tacit understanding with Russia on this issue.
"The issue of Syria has so far added points to the quality of strategic co-operation between China and Russia, and this should be seen as China's achievement in a difficult environment."
Civilians are continuing to die in Syria in their dozens. To say that China's achievement has been building closer ties with Russia implies that China's diplomacy is not at all about principles and protecting civilians in a far-off nation, but about hard-headed self interest.
If that's true, don't expect China to change course over Syria any time soon.
In Homs, every few seconds, at the height of the daily bombardment, Syrian government forces are firing rockets and shells into civilian areas.
Across Syria, every day, men, women and children are dying as Bashar al-Assad's regime struggles to put down the uprising against it.
Chinese villagers risk life and limb to steal gas and carry it home in plastic bags
* by: By Peter Farquhar * From: news.com.au * February 29, 2012 4:13PM
If this woman asks you for a light, refuse. Picture: ImagineChina Source: Supplied
POVERTY isn't funny.
So let's just pretend these people actually hail from one of Shandong Province's more well-to-do villages and aren't really so desperate for gas that they'd risk life and limb to carry it home in a 6m long plastic bag.
Okay, that's not working. Let's just say the pictures are "amazing".
The village in question is Binzhou in China's east and the gas they're bagging up is usually reserved for running extraction machinery.
According to Chinasmack, the workers say the middle-aged woman in the pictures here "skillfully opened the valve to the gas and connected it to the bag she was carrying, the plastic bag quickly rose and grew to be a 6 meter long, 1 meter wide balloon".
"After about 4 minutes the bag was full."
Binzhou gas Picture: ImagineChina Source: Supplied
Workers at the oil field say they try to talk the villagers out of the dangerous practice, but to no avail.
According to one commentor, officials usually turn a blind eye to villagers connecting their own lines to oil pipes in the district, but that's not the case in Binzhou.
So they take the gas instead. A bag this size, according to another commentor, would burn for five days.
We'll leave it to you to figure out exactly how you would connect a six-metre bag of gas to anything that might burn it safely.
Unless you're an OH&S official, in which case you're probably clutching at your chest and scrabbling through your files for the Witnessed a Traumatic Photo on the Internet form.
China combats air pollution with tough monitoring rules
State media acknowledge role of online environmental activists in forcing government to act on poor air quality in cities
* Mary Hennock in Beijing * guardian.co.uk, Thursday 1 March 2012 12.52 GMT
Smog down a main street of Linfen, in China's Shanxi province. Photograph: Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images
Chinese authorities have set tougher rules to combat air pollution by ordering all major cities to monitor tiny particles that do serious damage to health. One of China's leading environmental activists, Ma Jun, greeted the change as a major step forward.
Surprisingly, given China's strict control of the internet, state media have acknowledged the change is partly in response to online environmental campaigners.
The national air quality rules were agreed at an executive meeting of the state council presided over by the premier, Wen Jiabao, on 1 March, a statement on its website said.
They order stricter air pollution monitoring standards this year in the mega-cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing and Tianjin, 27 provincial capitals, and three key industrial belts: the Yangtze and Pearl river deltas, and Beijing's hinterland. Another 113 cities must adopt new standards next year, and all but the smallest cities by 2015.
To "help allay public concern over official air quality readings", levels of ozone and PM2.5 particles must be included. PM2.5 particulate matter is below 2.5 micrometres in diameter, or 1/30th the width of an average human hair, and easily penetrates lung tissue.
"This is a major step forward in terms of China's process to combat urban air pollution," said Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs. "The prerequisite for mobilising our people is to let them know what is going on.
"It doesn't mean that the sky will turn blue automatically because at the end of the day we still need to cut off these emissions."
Following the announcement, more than a million – mostly positive – comments were posted on the Weibo micro-blogging service in under 24 hours. "Good news, applause," wrote Xu Xiaonian, a prominent economist. Others questioned whether the rules would be enforced.
In January, Beijing's environmental agency included PM2.5 particles in its calculations after months of postings from netizens mocking the discrepancy between officially clear days and the dense smog at their windows. Ma said social media had played an essential role in changing government policy last year.
State media also acknowledged the role of bloggers: "A stirring campaign on the country's social network websites since last autumn seemed to have gained a satisfying response from the country's policymakers," Xinhua news agency said.
BEIJING: China will increase military spending this year by 11.2 per cent, a move likely to fuel world concerns and increase regional tensions.
The defence budget will rise to 670.27 billion yuan ($100 billion), Li Zhaoxing, a spokesman for the national parliament, said, citing a budget report submitted to the country's legislature.
The figure marks a slowdown from last year when spending rose by 12.7 per cent but is still likely to fuel worries over China's growing assertiveness in the region and push its neighbours to forge closer ties with the US.
Mr Li described the budget as ''relatively low'' as a percentage of gross domestic product compared with other countries and said it was aimed at ''safeguarding sovereignty, national security and territorial integrity''.
The last major political setpiece before China's once-a-decade leadership transition will kick off today, with close to 3000 of China's political elite converging in Beijing for the meeting of the country's highest state body. The Premier, Wen Jiabao, will hand down a government work report and outline policy directives in an annual state of the union-style address at the meeting of the National People's Congress.
In his final year of power, Mr Wen is not expected to signal any dramatic policy shifts. But analysts expect him to set an economic growth target lower than the long-standing annual goal of 8 per cent, showing a willingness to accept slower growth while addressing structural issues within the economy.
Much weight will be given to any hint Mr Wen gives on China's role in helping lift the global economy out of its slump.
''We have a sober understanding of the severity of the current international economic and financial situation,'' Mr Li said. ''We stand ready to work with the rest of the international community to offset the impact of the financial crisis.''
The congress is running concurrently with the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. The annual meetings offer Chinese reporters a rare opportunity to ask questions of the people running the country.
Much of the attention this year will be trained on two provincial party chiefs vying for a spot on the nine-man Politburo Standing Committee.
Bo Xilai, the high-profile provincial party chief of south-western mega-city Chongqing, had been seen as a favourite after a series of crime ring busts under his watch, but he was rocked by a scandal in January.
After a falling-out between Mr Bo and his former police chief and vice-mayor Wang Lijun, Mr Wang fled Chongqing for the US consulate at Chengdu, in Sichuan province, with information of Mr Bo's alleged corruption. Mr Wang has not been seen in public since.
For the first time, authorities have confirmed Mr Wang is being investigated and that he will not attend the congress. Mr Bo has not commented on the incident, but his office has said Mr Wang is on stress-related ''holiday-style treatment''.
Attending the opening ceremony of the consultative committee on Saturday, Mr Bo gave a short wave to the crowd as he took his usual seat on stage.
Wang Yang, of Guangdong province, has been hitting headlines for different reasons, including a liberal and progressive approach to government. He has been praised for his handling of the high-profile village revolt in Wukan, in which he chose to negotiate with village leaders rather than respond with force.
Chinese businessman detained before exposing crime links John Garnaut, Philip Wen March 8, 2012
BEIJING: A wealthy businessman was detained yesterday amid expectations he was about to reveal explosive allegations of collaboration between Chongqing officials and organised crime.
Fresh revelations would have further destabilised the city and the fortunes of its ambitious Communist Party chief, Bo Xilai, and his mayor Huang Qifan, during the politically sensitive annual sittings of China's two main representative bodies.
Mr Bo had been riding a wave of support within sections of the party and broader public for his campaigns to destroy the local mafia and spread ''red'' nostalgia through the nation.
He appeared on track for promotion to the party's inner circle until last month when his police chief and right-hand man, Wang Lijun, apparently fled from Mr Bo to save his own life and took refuge in the nearest United States consulate.
Mr Bo's aura of invincibility was punctured by the surreal spectacle - played out in real time on the nation's microblogs - but there are signs the party is trying to contain the damage to him.
The President, Hu Jintao, reportedly took the unusual step of personally telling delegates Mr Wang was a ''traitor'', thus devaluing evidence he was expected to have divulged against his former boss.
Yesterday morning, the Chongqing property developer Zhang Mingyu hinted on his microblog he had new information to help outsiders understand ''the jigsaw puzzle around Wang Lijun''.
Earlier he blogged that a Chongqing official committed suicide on Saturday in his luxury compound. The official was a close associate of Weng Zhenjie, a local businessman and official who Mr Zhang and other entrepreneurs have publicly labelled the true godfather of the city mafia, although he was not one of 4500 detained in the anti-mafia campaign.
Mr Weng was a frequent social partner of many senior Chongqing officials including the mayor, Mr Huang.
But yesterday afternoon Chongqing police broke through the front door of Mr Zhang's Beijing apartment before he could detail further allegations, said Mr Zhang's lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang.
''What are Chongqing police going to do to a Chongqing delegate of the People's Congress in Beijing?'' Mr Pu said. ''Without co-operation from Beijing police, they have no jurisdiction.''
Mr Zhang confirmed: ''Police are in my apartment, they want to put me under control'', before hanging up the phone.
The travails of Bo Xilai have delighted his rivals in elite politics and civil society. Theories have circulated about who and why parts of the central party apparatus began an investigation into Mr Wang's business dealings, destabilising Mr Bo.
An opponent asserted anointed future president Xi Jinping had scuttled Mr Bo's promotion chances because Mr Bo would be ''uncontrollable'' in his inner cabinet.
Tibet woes seize the spotlight in China Philip Wen March 8, 2012
BEIJING: Wu Zegang shifted uncomfortably in his seat, avoided eye contact with the reporters surrounding him and refused to answer any questions.
After a few minutes, the heat on the deputy Communist Party secretary and governor of Sichuan's Aba prefecture - the epicentre of Tibetan unrest and self-immolations - was too much. He stood up, left his desk and retired to the back of the room, before he was eventually shepherded through a rear exit and into a lift by minders, while dozens of journalists and camera crew jostled to get close.
"Will you adjust any of your Tibetan area policies?" one local reporter piped up one final time as Mr Wu disappeared from view.
The rare scenes of media spotlight and pressure - made possible by the relatively unbridled media access at China's annual National People's Congress - highlights the intense interest and awareness among Chinese media of the red-button issue, despite government-enforced restrained lines of reporting.
There were three more self-immolations in Aba this week, including a mother-of-four and two teenagers, bringing the toll to at least 26 in the past year, with more than half of those setting themselves alight in the past three months alone. Most are protesting against what they say are restrictions on their religious freedom, amid an unprecedented military crackdown.
Earlier, the Sichuan press conference, on the sidelines of the congress, had meandered along with polite questions from local media regarding disaster management, the economy and the environment, before a foreign reporter raised the issue of Tibetan self-immolations.
Called on by provincial party chief Liu Qibao to respond, Mr Wu forcefully delivered a prepared statement, denying any fault from the Sichuan government and putting the blame on an orchestrated effort from overseas "separatist groups" plotting Tibetan independence.
"This all proves a motivated and political ploy by overseas separatist interests," Mr Wu said.
"The 14th Dalai Lama not only does not discourage this behaviour, but actively supports this separatist, anti-social action."
Mr Liu added "oppression on ethnic minorities and their religion does not exist" in Sichuan. But Mr Wu may consider himself unlucky to have felt most of the heat at such a public forum. Shi Jun - Aba prefecture's former head before being promoted to deputy governor of Sichuan - is considered the mastermind of Sichuan's hardline Tibetan policies. He has not attended this year's congress.
China's limelight loving leader Bo admits to errors Philip Wen March 10, 2012
THE political scandal captivating China took centre stage at the People's National Congress yesterday when the celebrity politician Bo Xilai spoke out for the first time since the defection of his right-hand man, a betrayal that threatens to topple his once high-flying political aspirations.
Mr Bo, the charismatic party chief of Chongqing, defended his campaigns to destroy the local mafia and spread "red" nostalgia throughout the nation, but admitted he had made an error of judgment in promoting his former police chief, Wang Lijun.
"This was a case of negligent supervision on my part," he said.
Mr Bo had appeared to be in line for promotion to the ruling Communist Party's all-powerful inner circle, the Politburo standing committee, until last month when Mr Wang fled from Mr Bo in apparent attempt to save his own life.
He drove for hundreds of kilometres to seek refuge in the US consulate in Chengdu, reportedly armed with incriminating evidence against Mr Bo.
Chongqing's mayor Huang Qifan pursued Mr Wang to Chengdu and had persuaded him to leave the consulate before state security agents led him away. He has not been seen in public since.
The scandal, being played out under the glare of China's annual meeting of parliament, escalated this week after a local businessman and Chongqing party delegate, Zhang Mingyu, was detained by police after he threatened to release explosive information on connections between Mr Wang and a local tycoon and alleged mafia boss, Weng Zhenjie.
Mr Zhang's lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang, said his client had been taken from his apartment in Beijing on Thursday and that he had been unable to contact him since. There are fears for the safety of other close associates of Mr Zhang.
Mr Bo set the rumour mill into overdrive with his no-show at an important session of parliament on Thursday, a rarity for a senior leader. His absence sparked a flurry of speculation that he had been purged from the leadership, even that he had been placed under house arrest.
The last Politburo member to suffer such a fall from grace was the former Shanghai party chief Chen Liangyu, who was toppled in 2006 and later sentenced to 18 years in jail for corruption.
Yesterday, Mr Bo said he had simply been feeling unwell. Mr Wang was being investigated by ''relevant central government departments'', he said, but he declined to elaborate while the inquiry was under way.
Mr Bo denied reports that he himself was under investigation. He said that by fighting organised crime members, it was "hard to prevent them from throwing dirt". He declined to discuss his political future, other than to say his fight against organised crime would continue.
He said the "smashing black'' campaign to rid Chongqing of underworld criminal gangs was the collective job of the entire municipal government, of which "Wang was just one" part.
News began to spread on Thursday night that Chongqing would hold its customary open day for the media the next morning. The meeting, unlike in previous years, was not publicised or announced through the government's official channels.
The Chongqing delegation allowed the few dozen, vetted local and international journalists in the room to observe the proceedings, but denied access to more than 100 other reporters, who were blocked off by a line of stony faced men.
Mr Bo's critics say his ruthless anti-crime policies in Chongqing were mainly motivated to target unco-operative business leaders, and to discredit his predecessor, Wang Yang, who is now the Communist Party chief in Guangdong and a potential rival for promotion.
Mr Bo's aura of invincibility has been damaged by the saga, but there are growing signs that the Communist Party is attempting to contain the damage to him.
This week President Hu Jintao reportedly took the unusual step of personally telling delegates that Mr Wang was a "traitor", thus devaluing the evidence that he was expected to have disclosed against his former boss.
Further, as the son of a revolutionary hero, or a "princeling", Mr Bo retains considerable influence and his promotion cannot be ruled out.
China puts brakes on web mobilisation March 18, 2012
BEIJING: Hundreds of millions of Chinese face being silenced on the country's social networks after the government brought in rules to track people across the web.
Those wishing to post on one of China's networks, including the enormously popular Sina Weibo, must register with their real names, allowing the government to find them if they write anything contentious.
The stream of news, gossip, entertainment and opinion on the Twitter-like website has confounded government attempts to cover up or play down issues. Wang Chen, a minister at the State Council Information Office, warned that microblogging could ''mobilise people''.
The new rules state that users must register their identity cards or their mobile telephone numbers with microblog operators.
Thousands mourn Tibetan self-immolator March 18, 2012 - 4:34PM
Thousands of Tibetans have gathered to mourn a farmer who died after dousing himself in kerosene and setting himself on fire in protest at Chinese rule in Tibetan areas.
A London-based rights group said Saturday's funeral turned into a protest march, with thousands calling for freedom and the return to Tibet of the Dalai Lama, their exiled spiritual leader. The incident, as with most reported unrest in Tibetan areas, could not be independently verified.
Nearly 30 Tibetans have set themselves alight over the past year to protest against the suppression of their religion and culture and to call for the return the Dalai Lama, who fled in 1959 amid an abortive uprising against Chinese rule and is reviled by Beijing.
The government has blamed supporters of the Dalai Lama for encouraging the self-immolations.
US broadcaster Radio Free Asia said in an emailed statement that Sonam Thargyal, a 44-year-old farmer and father of four, fastened cotton padding to his body with iron wire and doused himself with kerosene before setting himself on fire on Saturday in Tongren, a monastery town in western China's Qinghai province. He also drank kerosene, the broadcaster said.
"The Tibetans who were at the scene attempted to put out the flames but death was very fast because of the kerosene inside and outside the body," RFA quoted Dorjee Wangchuk, a Tibetan exiled in Dharamsala, India, with close ties to the Tongren community, as saying.
Thargyal called out for an end to Chinese rule in Tibetan-populated areas, the return of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan language rights, RFA said.
As many as 7000 Tibetans took part in Thargyal's funeral and cremation ceremony, the broadcaster said.
In London, Free Tibet posted photos on its website of what it said was Thargyal's charred body covered in ceremonial yellow silk scarves. Also pictured were hundreds of people marching up a hill to the local cremation site, where his remains were burned.
Phone calls to the Tongren county government and police rang unanswered on Sunday. A man who answered the telephone at the government office of Huangnan prefecture, which oversees Tongren, said he had not heard reports of an self-immolation or a protest.
"All things here are fine," said the man, who, like many Chinese bureaucrats, refused to give his name.
A man who answered the phone at Tongren's Yunlong Hotel, which is close to the funeral site, said he was unaware of any self-immolation or demonstration.
"Nothing happened here," said the man, who also refused to give his name. "The monastery is still open to visitors today, and I did not notice police presence around the monastery."
Free Tibet said there was a small confrontation between the mourners and Chinese security forces but that it was mediated peacefully and the security forces withdrew.
"It is believed that the paramilitary forces had to withdraw given the vast numbers of Tibetans present," Free Tibet said.
The Dalai Lama has praised the courage of those who engage in self-immolation and has attributed the protests to what he calls China's "cultural genocide" in Tibet.