March 5th, 2009
09:11 AM GMT
BEIJING, China - When the National People's Congress met in Beijing last year, the mood was cheerful and the recurrent theme was the Summer Olympics and rapid economic growth.
Colourful costumes on display at the congress.
This time, the mood is somber and the theme is "jobs, jobs, jobs."
Inside the cavernous Great Hall of the People, Premier Wen Jiabao delivered a two-hour "government work report."Much like a state-of the-nation speech that the Chinese premier delivers to the parliament every year, Wen focused on domestic issues, outlining China's plans to get its economy back on track in the face of the global economic crisis.
The more than 3,000 delegates listened intently, following Premier Wen reading through the 52-page text. A few delegates took notes keenly. Others listened expressionless.
There was a ripple of applause when he declared that China will ensure that "schools are the safest place for our children" - an obvious reference to the defective school buildings which collapsed during the Sichuan earthquake last May.
Midway through Wen's speech, some of the delegates sneaked out of the meeting hall to drink tea or chat with fellow delegates in the hallways. There I met Lai Baorong, a Taoist priest from China's hinterland. I snapped pictures of delegates representing the military and ethnic minorities clad in colorful costumes. Our TV crew interviewed Li Haiyan, who of the delegates who represented the migrant workers. "We hope to expand training for migrant workers to help ensure employment and social stability."
China says over 25 million migrant workers have lost jobs because many factories, especially those export-oriented enterprises, have closed down. "I've put in a proposal on this," she says, "but Premier Wen has already thought about it and it's in his government report." Li, who hails from the mostly rural Henan province, says "the Premier's report has given us the confidence and determination to defeat the financial crisis."
Prowling the corridors of the Great Hall of the People, I saw a few familiar faces among the 3,000 NPC delegates. Wang Hongju, mayor of Chongqing, China's biggest municipality in southwestern Sichuan Province, arrived early for the opening session. I spotted Yang Yuanqing walking away with a coterie of assistants and admirers. Yang, the newly appointed CEO of Lenovo, is overseeing a major revamp of the blue-chip computer company challenged by a tough business climate.
I did not get a chance to interview Yang, but I encountered another high-profile entrepeneur fielding questions from a clump of journalists. "The bigger your company's scale, the better you can cope with business challenges," Liu Yonghao said, in reply to a question. "Smaller businesses find it more difficult to get loans and investments in hard times." Liu, one of the richest entrepeneurs in China, chairs the Hope Group, a conglomerate engaged in the agro-business, scientific research, trade, real estate and tourism.
I tried an "ambush" interview with another prominent face. Zhang Yin, affectionately known in China as the "Queen of Trash," became one of the richest woman in the world by collecting paper for recycling. Her publicly listed company has dominated the world's paper trade, so I asked how's business. "We're doing okay," said curtly, smiling, after I introduced myself as a CNN journalist. She promptly walked away and that was all I could get from one of the richest women in the world. I wonder if she still is?
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