BEIJING — China's government called Saturday for higher social spending, controls on inflation and measures to urgently close a divisive rich-poor gap, betting that rising living standards, better services and heavy policing will dampen growing public expectations for change.
In a speech that is China's equivalent of a state-of-the-nation address, Premier Wen Jiabao said the government will boost spending by 12.5 percent this year, with bigger outlays for education, job creation, low-income housing, health care and pensions and other social insurance. Spending on police, courts, prosecutors and other domestic security is projected to exceed the usually favored military budget for the first time in years, climbing 13.8 percent to $95 billion.
Wen reiterated several times during his speech that the authoritarian government sees the combination of policies as crucial to forestalling unrest among a population grown used to greater prosperity and expecting more.
"We must make improving the people's lives a pivot linking reform, development and stability ... and make sure people are content with their lives and jobs, society is tranquil and orderly and the country enjoys long-term peace and stability," Wen told the 2,923 delegates gathered in the Great Hall of the People for the opening of the national legislature's annual session.
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The emphasis comes as the government seems increasingly anxious about calls of unknown origin posted online urging Chinese to stage peaceful rallies every Sunday like the ones that toppled autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt. Beijing has been smothering under ever heavier security since the Internet messages first appeared more than two weeks ago.
With a new appeal calling for more rallies today, the Beijing Daily issued a rare front-page editorial Saturday warning people not to be fooled into joining protests that would wreck China's prosperity.
"It's worth noting that people with ulterior motives from within and outside the country are attempting to lead China into chaos," said the daily, the capital's official Communist Party newspaper.
The plans for greater social spending along with nervousness over social unrest underscore the difficult moment the leadership finds itself in.