China's president vowed that his country would continue to open up and reform this year, pursuing a goal of peaceful development as it plays a bigger role on the world stage.
In his annual year-end speech, President Hu Jintao (
His sweeping remarks touched upon China's relations with territories Hong Kong and Macau, and Taiwan.
Hu said a new five-year economic plan starting this year will focus on the development of the poverty-stricken countryside in an effort to narrow the growing and politically sensitive gap between rich and poor.
"With our morale high, Chinese people of all ethnic groups are devoted to the building of a ... well-off society. We are working to create a better future," said Hu, who spoke in the nationally televised address with the Chinese flag in the background.
"We will continue to guide economic and social development, ... speed up opening up and reform," he said.
The leadership has been grappling with increasing unrest, mostly in the country's vast hinterland, home to 800 million of China's 1.3 billion people.
Anger at corruption, heavy taxes and the seizure of farmland by officials for development in areas where some families get by on only a few hundred dollars a year has triggered increasingly frequent and violent clashes.
In October, state media said the new five-year plan would overhaul the rural tax system, invest more in agriculture and experiment with letting farmers control their land.
Regarding Hong Kong and Macau, former colonies which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 and 1999 respectively, Hu said Beijing will support their leaders and promote exchanges to foster better cooperation.
But he stressed that China would "never compromise our stance against separatist activities in Taiwan."
Globally, China will strengthen its role as a key player both economically and in peace efforts in troubled regions, he said.
"China's development is of a peaceful, open, cooperative and harmonious nature," Hu said, adding that China "seeks to contribute to the establishment of a fair and reasonable new international political and economic order."
"China will stick to its basic policy of opening up, keep on improving its investment environment, open up the market, and extensively conduct international cooperation," Hu said.
The president also said his people had "great sympathy" for countries plagued by war, poverty, disease and natural disaster.