Prime Minister Wen Jiabao responded Wednesday to growing public anxiety about inflation by announcing that China would freeze energy prices in the near term, even as international crude oil futures have topped $100 a barrel.
....The freezes, announced on the government's main Web site, followed a meeting of the State Council, led by Wen on Wednesday, to revise policies on price controls. Prices of oil products, natural gas and electricity will be frozen in the near term. Rates for public water bills also will be frozen, as will the cost of public transportation tickets.
The edict also called for stabilizing prices on medical services and for certain agricultural fertilizers. It ordered local governments to closely monitor prices and warned that punishments would be strengthened for those who violate government price control policies.
....For ordinary Chinese citizens, inflation has emerged as a major concern. Last year, food prices rose roughly 12 percent, eliciting an often angry public response. More recently, prices for eggs and pork have fallen, though flooding in farming regions of central China damaged vegetable production and kept those prices high, Simpfendorfer said.
Last week, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences released a national survey that found 30.5 percent of respondents considered inflation the country's top problem. Stories about the urban poor struggling with rising prices have become common in the Chinese media.