The National People's Congress on Monday wrapped up its annual session one day after electing Communist Party chief Hu Jintao as chairman of the state Central Military Commission, completing a handover of power from Jiang Zemin that began in 2002. 

After the meeting ended, Wen stressed the positive aspects of the anti-secession law, including calls for more exchanges with Taiwan, which China claims as a renegade province.

"This is a law to strengthen and promote cross-strait relations, for peaceful reunification, not targeted at the people of Taiwan, nor is it a law of war," Wen said. 

Taiwan's independence

China hopes the legislation, approved in a near unanimous vote to thunderous applause from lawmakers, will deter Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian from pushing for independence during his second and final term that ends in 2008, analysts say. 

Analysts say the People's Liberation Army has no immediate plans to attack Taiwan, over which Beijing has claimed sovereignty since Nationalist troops lost the Chinese civil war on the mainland and fled to the island in 1949. 

Delegates welcomed the anti-
secession bill passed on Monday

"The law is provocative and destabilising," Lo Chih-Cheng, executive director of the Institute for National Policy Research told Aljazeera.net.

"It shows China's extension of its influence in the region," he said, adding that it also revealed that Beijing was challenging the power of the US.

Lo said Taiwan would react to the law in cooperation with the US which he believed would not approve of Beijing's move to enshrine the military option into law and would take action against the Chinese government.

During its 10-day session, parliament approved a defence budget of 247.7 billion yuan ($30 billion), up 12.6% from 2004, for a second straight year of double-digit growth. 

The session also coincided with the resignation of Tung Chee-hwa as Hong Kong's chief executive. Tung was elected a top adviser to parliament, seen by some as a face-saving promotion that allowed the unpopular leader to exit after eight rocky years in office. 

Strong backing

Deputies offered strong backing on Monday for Wen, who cultivated an image as a champion of the poor, approving his report to parliament on the past year's achievements and the coming year's work with 2868 yes votes, 17 against and 13 abstentions. 

President Hu (L) was elected head
of the Central
Military Commission  

In his report on the opening day, Wen targeted economic growth of 8% and consumer price inflation of about 4% in 2005, and said China would keep in place measures aimed at cooling breakneck credit and investment growth. 

"A small economic growth rate won't do because it would make it more difficult for us to create jobs, increase revenue and engage in necessary undertakings for society," he said. 

Wen has pledged to exempt farmers from agricultural tax in 2006, two years ahead of schedule, and to expand job opportunities for rural workers, ensure compulsory education
for all by 2007 and upgrade the rural healthcare system. 

He has also outlined steps aimed at bridging a yawning gap between China's booming cities and rural hinterland and pledged to build a "harmonious society", tacit recognition that the wealth gap could lead to instability.