China Leaders Pledge Clean Government

By Charles Hutzler, Associated Press

BEIJING -- China's new leaders struck a populist tone Sunday as they got down to the painstaking work of governing, promising cleaner government, less red tape and more fairness to enlarge a still small middle class and help struggling private businesses.

In appearances that mark the completion of a months-long, orchestrated leadership transition, President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang stressed the urgency of reining in runaway official corruption to restore the Communist Party's frayed public credibility.

Li made specific pledges to slash official perks and government extravagance to free up money for social welfare programs at a time of slower economic growth. He said a ban will be put on building new government offices, government payrolls will be reduced, as will spending on banquets, travel and cars -- behavior that has fueled public anger and protests.

"If the people are to live a good life, their government must be put on a tight budget," Li said in his first news conference as premier after the end of the annual session of the national legislature.

Earlier, in addressing the nearly 3,000 legislative deputies in the Great Hall of the People, Xi promised to root out "corruption and other misconduct in all manifestations." He said people's own aspirations must be part of "the Chinese dream" -- a signature phrase he has used to invoke national greatness. "Each of us must have broad space to diligently realize our own dreams," he said.

Though Xi and Li were installed as Nos. 1 and 2 in the party leadership in November, Sunday's closing of the legislature means their government is now fully in place. The legislature appointed Cabinet ministers, named Li premier, gave Xi the ceremonial title of president and thereby relieved their predecessors of office.

The legislature's close -- and their appearances -- also brought a concerted push to burnish the leaders' image before a public that has grown more demanding as it has become more prosperous and better connected by the Internet and cellphones. Expectations have run high in recent months that the new leadership would address social sore-spots: close a wide wealth gap, curb the often capricious use of official power and clean up an environment degraded by the headlong pursuit of growth.

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