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Last Updated:  Friday, 7 March, 2003, 11:00 GMT
China unveils major reforms

By Francis Markus
BBC Correspondent in Shanghai

The Chinese Government has been unveiling a series of reforms to its structures, streamlining and merging ministries.

The changes are to be endorsed by the country's formal parliament, the National People's Congress, now meeting in Beijing.

Delegates in the Great Hall of the People
About 3,000 delegates are at the NPC

State media say they aim at streamlining the bureaucracy and improving economic management as China deepens its market reforms.

But getting officials to give up their vested interests is going to be hard.

China's officials today, in their dark, Western suits, look very different from the silk-gowned mandarins of the country's imperial past, but they are the inheritors of an ancient and resistant bureaucratic culture.

Beijing's latest reform package is the fifth such initiative in the last 20 years.

But the record has been patchy in terms of really slashing the numbers on bloated government payrolls.

Now China says it is really serious about getting the government out of large areas of economic and social micro-management, and steering towards something closer to a free market system than a centrally planned structure.

Some analysts argue that the corruption and confusion created by that transition are inevitable.

There is also the problem of how to get officials to give up their vested economic interests in wielding power.

One Chinese political scientist said the only way was to compensate them through salaries on a par with those in business.

But amid public discontent over rising unemployment and a widening wealth gap, the government has once again postponed a round of civil service pay rises so such an approach may not be politically viable any time soon.

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