China's Legislature Focuses On Inflation, Government Reform

China's top priorities for the coming year will be curbing inflation and improving living standards for ordinary people. In his speech to the opening session of the Chinese legislature, Wednesday, Premier Wen Jiabao said the government will also pay attention to environmental protection and to streamlining the bloated bureaucracy. VOA's Stephanie Ho reports from Beijing.

Premier Wen Jiabao's first order of business was the Chinese economy. He projects an eight percent economic growth rate for 2008. He says the government will work to cap rising consumer prices to an 4.8 percent increase.

Inflation is a huge problem in China. Prices for food, land and other items have gone up significantly, with rising consumer demand and shortages of staples, such as pork and grain.

Premier Wen says the government wants to improve lives for ordinary people in other ways, too. This includes reforms in the health care, education and pension systems.

Another major task is restructuring the sprawling government into fewer ministries that will be larger and more efficient.

Premier Wen promises to improve environmental standards in China, by reducing emissions, conserving energy and shutting down out-moded factories in heavily-polluting industries.

Environmental protection has taken on an added urgency, as Beijing plans to host the Olympics in August. Beijing has had some of the worst air pollution in the world and officials promise the conditions will improve by the Olympics.

Premier Wen received the loudest applause when he stressed China's continuing opposition to independence for Taiwan, a separately-governed island Beijing considers part of Chinese territory.

The National People's Congress session runs until March 14. Deputies will approve the country's budget and a new slate of leaders. President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao are slated to remain in their positions for second five-year terms.