China's parliamentary season begins
Police and armoured cars circle Tiananmen as legislature's annual meeting kicks off.
Last Modified: 03 Mar 2010 10:28 GMT
The CPPCC almost always passes the laws put forward by the ruling Communist Party [AFP]

Chinese authorities have stepped up security in Beijing as the opening of the national legislature's annual session gets underway.

Police, security forces and armoured cars circled Tiananmen Square in the heart of the capital, adjacent to the Great Hall of the People, where the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) began meeting on Wednesday.

The CPPCC is an advisory council to the National People's Congress (NPC), often described as a rubber-stamp parliament for the nation's Communist Party rulers where laws are always passed with overwhelming majorities.

More than 700,000 people will keep public order during the upcoming 10-day NPC session beginning on Friday as police build a "great moat" of security around Beijing, state media said.

The massive security operation includes police, paramilitary units, security guards at government offices and enterprises and volunteers.

The sessions are collectively known as "the two meetings", at which thousands of delegates are said to approve the policies of the ruling Communist Party as the government unveils its economic strategy for 2010 and its budget.

While the congress is essentially powerless, it is used by the ruling Communist Party to outline its priorities for the year.

The CPPCC opens with a speech broadly outlining issues of national concern delivered by Jia Qinglin.

This year's legislative session is expected to focus on economic policy. The government, which releases a budget and work plan for the year, is expected to boost spending on education, pensions and medical care again, continuing a push begun over the past decade to repair the country's social safety net.

Congress agenda

There are approximately 230 million Chinese migrants workers [AFP]

The congress is also expected to pass legislation on safeguarding state secrets and amend a law on how deputies are selected, correcting a disparity that gave urban Chinese greater representation over their more numerous rural neighbors.

Along the sidelines, the congress will focus attention on an upcoming national leadership transition to begin with a key Communist Party congress in 2012.

Many of the aspirants for top jobs will be seeking to network among congress participants and maximize the opportunity for national media exposure.

According to analysts, the plight of migrant workers will be one of the leading priorities amid fears over a widening wealth gap and social stability in a country that annually sees tens of thousands of protests - often violent - by those who have missed out on China's economic boom.

There are approximately 230 million Chinese migrant workers who are considered second-class citizens in their own country.

Another concern is a so-called "second-generation" of migrants - web-savvy 20-somethings seen as demanding more pay, opportunities and basic rights than their peasant predecessors, and said to number over 100 million.

In a "Number 1 Document" released annually to underline the nation's top concerns, the government for the first time singled out this new generation as a priority.

"Half of [China's] migrant workers were born after 1980 and more than 40 million were born after 1990," Han Jun, head of a rural policy research unit under the cabinet, told reporters last week.

"Most won't return to the countryside and they wish to live in the cities and enjoy rights equal to those of their city counterparts."

Earlier this year, the government warned of the appearance of migrant ghettoes and shantytowns in major cities -  possible breeding grounds for crime and instability.

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