Great Hall of China: Beijing turns red for its great conversation

Figleaf parliament gathers for annual session to approve the Party's economic recovery plan

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The Independent Online

There were red stars, red flags and red-clad hostesses to escort the 3,000-odd delegates. And, as Communist Party leaders from all over China gathered in Beijing for the annual parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), there was also a grand plan to get consumers spending to offset the effects of a slowdown in the world's second largest economy.

Among the crowd were senior officials, film directors such as Zhang Yimou and some of the country's richest tycoons, all accommodated in the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square.

The 10-day NPC has largely a rubberstamp function, with delegates giving unanimous approval to bills set before them and applauding warmly. But the meeting can give significant insight into the big issues facing China.

This year attention will be the economy, as China wrestles with flagging global growth, and one of the first items on the agenda was setting the 2012 growth target at 7.5 per cent, the first time in eight years that it has been less than 8 per cent.

"There is downward pressure on economic growth. Prices remain high. Regulation of the real estate market is at a crucial stage," Premier Wen Jiabao told delegates.

China may have capitalist characteristics, but the view inside the Great Hall is solidly Marxist-Leninist, with delegates in orderly lines, applauding in unison and paying homage to the red flag.

The decision to moderate the economic outlook was widely flagged, and it shows Beijing's willingness to reconcile with slower growth in exchange for more balanced and sustainable development – more focus on quality rather than speed when it comes to future economic expansion.

"Internationally, the road to global economic recovery will be tortuous," Mr Wen said. "Domestically, it has become more urgent but also more difficult to solve institutional and structural problems and alleviate the problem of unbalanced, unco-ordinated and unsustainable development."

Economic growth will probably come out at 8 per cent, according to most forecasts.

The gathering is known as the "Two Meetings" and is composed of an influential advisory body, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPCCC), and the NPC. The main objective will be to ensure stability as outgoing leaders President Hu Jintao and Mr Wen prepare to begin the complicated, secretive process this autumn of handing over power to likely successors Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang.

Keeping things on an even keel ahead of the handover, especially following the uprisings against authoritarian governments across the Arab world, has led to a focus on security. The NPC is likely to approve a rise of 11.5 per cent to £70bn in spending on police, militia and domestic security agencies. The Communist Party is taking no chances with the handover of power.

China wants to underline its role as one of the world's rising nations with a superpower-sized, 11.2 per cent increase to 670.2 billion yuan (£67bn) on military spending.

Mr Wen also stressed the Communist Party's ultimate control over the armed forces, and dismissed scattered calls for the 2.3 million-member People's Liberation Army to be placed under government rather than party control.