- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 5, 2005

BEIJING — Prime Minister Wen Jiabao opened China’s national legislative session yesterday vowing never to allow Taiwanese independence, while promising to ease the potentially explosive domestic issue of grinding rural poverty with an economic plan calling for 8 percent economic growth this year.

The planned passage of an anti-secession bill — effectively a warning to Taiwan against declaring formal independence — has overshadowed the annual meeting of the National People’s Congress. Mr. Wen gave few details of the planned law, saying only that it “reflects the strong determination of the Chinese people to … never allow secessionist forces working for Taiwan independence to separate Taiwan from China.”

Taiwanese leaders say the proposed law could offer a pretext for a military attack on the island, which split from the mainland during the 1949 civil war and has been self-ruled since, although Beijing considers it part of China.

Mr. Wen said military modernization was key to “safeguarding national security and reunification” — another reference to Taiwan.

“We will intensify scientific and technical training for soldiers to turn out a new type of highly competent military personnel,” the prime minister said, referring to China’s effort to reduce the size of its 2.5 million-member People’s Liberation Army while investing in modern weaponry.

Mr. Wen’s speech to the cavernous Great Hall of the People also dwelt heavily on improving conditions in China’s sprawling hinterland.

“Solving the problems facing agriculture, rural areas and farmers remains a top priority of our work,” he said in the two-hour, nationally televised speech to delegates. “There are more than a few factors threatening social stability.”

While annual incomes in China average a mere $1,000, some 800 million people — mostly farmers — in the countryside lag far behind even this figure, their paltry salaries offset by higher incomes in fast-growing eastern cities.

Other than the Taiwan issue, the prime minister mentioned foreign affairs only in passing.

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