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Chinese Premier to Tackle Fiscal Issues

New leader vows to pare back government spending, red tape and corruption.

BEIJING — China’s new central leaders will focus on paring back government spending and red tape, tamping down corruption and maintaining economic growth while improving wages and closing a widening income gap, the new Chinese premier pledged on Sunday.

In his first meeting with the press, newly installed Premier Li Keqiang said the government’s priorities during the next few years will lie in tackling critical fiscal issues, particularly widespread government corruption and overspending in government.

Li, who assumed the premier position as new President Xi Jinping took the helm, met with hundreds of journalists at the Great Hall of the People to close out this year’s session of the National People’s Congress — the capstone moment in China’s once-in-a-decade power transition process. As is always the case in this annual meeting between the Chinese premier and the press, reporters’ questions were pre-screened in advance from media organizations chosen ahead of the conference, removing opportunity for spontaneous dialogue.

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Li said China is aiming for 7.5 percent economic growth through 2020, a reduced pace yet sustained pace that is apt to require dramatic and potentially painful shifts in the country’s financial structure.

“We need to maintain steady economic growth, control inflation and protect against major fluctuations,” said Li.

Maintaining 7.5 percent growth “will not be easy…the key is to have economic transformation,” he added.

Chinese leaders are aiming at innovation and spurring domestic demand as keys to that transformation. Although consumer demand and spending have grown quickly in China, the country’s leadership is intent on driving demand and spending up. Perhaps more importantly, there is wide recognition of the need to move away from low-cost manufacturing and incorporate creativity and invention as parts of the economic blueprint. Moving toward an economy based on innovation seems far off for China, however, when the country faces major roadblocks in education and similar critical areas.

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The new premier said that quashing corruption and extravagant spending are key goals for the new regime. China’s leadership has come under intense scrutiny in the past two years for rampant corruption across all reaches of the government. Li said the new central government directionwould include limits on government building projects, entertainment budgets and salaries.

“The reform is about curbing government power. It’s about a self-imposed revolution,” said Li. “We are determined to make that sacrifice.”

Li said the government will also make a concerted effort to reduce China’s infamous web of bureaucratic red tape. The layers of government approvals for business endeavors will be reduced by one-third, he said, as part of a directive to make China’s system more efficient.

Li’s press conference was held after a speech from new President Xi Jinping, who spoke to similar themes with less specificity. Xi, who takes the presidency at a moment widely viewed as a transition point for China, spoke of the need for China’s government to work toward the “Chinese dream.”

Though his speech lacked specifics on policy plans, Xi highlighted what has become an ongoing narrative, the opening of a “great renaissance of the Chinese nation.”