BEIJING (AP) - China's President Hu Jintao said it will be vital in 2007 for his government to spread the country's growing wealth among its have-nots, in a New Year's speech that also toned down rhetoric against rival Taiwan.
"It is an important year in building a socialist harmonious society," Hu said in a nationally televised speech Sunday.
"Harmonious society" is the official phrase for efforts to spread China's prosperity more evenly, as the country's leaders face growing protests in the populous but poor countryside over job loss, corruption and a porous social safety net.
China's booming economic growth in the last several decades has enriched millions but a growing wealth gap in recent years has exposed cracks Hu and his government have acknowledged threaten social stability.
"The government will exert more efforts in addressing social problems concerning people's lives and will also save resources and protect the environment," Hu said while standing behind a podium with the national flag to his side.
He said there is a need to push forward economic restructuring in order to achieve fast, yet sustainable growth.
There are concerns China's double-digit growth is too reliant on investment and exports. Chinese leaders are also worried a surge in credit and spending will ignite inflation or leave companies and lenders with dangerously high debt.
Hu repeated the standard statements on seeking the peaceful reunification of China with Taiwan, while avoiding his hardline comments of a year ago warning those who want an independent Taiwan.
He said China would "never give up efforts on promoting peaceful reunification, never change the policy of pinning hope on Taiwan people and never compromise on opposing Taiwan independence secessionist activities."
The two split in 1949 amid civil war and China claims the self-governed island Taiwan as its own and has threatened to use military force to stop any Taiwanese attempts to declare independence.
Hu said internationally, problems such as terrorism, environmental pollution, natural disasters and fatal infectious diseases have become more common and China will work with other countries to combat them.