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China reform agenda seen under ideological cloud

Written by: Staff

BEIJING, Mar 6 (Reuters) China's economic progress is being threatened by ideological rifts and bureaucratic profiteering, a senior official economist said, as China's parliament began discussing a national development plan.

Members of the government-vetted National People's Congress today mostly extolled the blueprint for continued economic growth while spreading more wealth to the country's poor that Premier Wen Jiabao presented at the opening session yesterday.

But Wu Jinglian, an influential economist who sits on an advisory council that meets alongside the parliament, said China faces deep problems not fathomed by official plans -- and solving them is stalled by official self-interest and contention between pro-market reformers and resurgent leftists.

''The visible foot is treading on the invisible hand,'' he told Reuters, speaking of official control of market deals.

''At issue is whether we want a true market economy or bureaucratic capitalism, and under these complex conditions, pushing reform forward has become extremely difficult,'' he added.

Wu, 76, is chief economist at the State Council Development Research Centre, a high-level government think-tank; he has regularly advised China's leaders and helped draft the new five-year national development plan.

His bold comments were part of a rising debate about the direction of China's economic reforms that has spilled over into the current parliamentary session.

Premier Wen yesterday presented plans to raise government spending in the countryside and improve the welfare of farmers. He promised to protect farmers' rights, but did not mention land reform, an issue his key adviser on agriculture recently broached.

''We must respect farmers' wishes and avoid formalism and coercive orders,'' Wen said.

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