The National People's Congress, China's rubber-stamp parliament, opened its annual session yesterday with the examination of a draft constitution that would restore the post of "state chairman" or president.

More than 3,100 delegates assembled in Peking's Great Hall of the People, where the 15-day session was opened by the congress chairman and de facto head of state, Marshal Ye Jianying, 85.

Apart from giving China a head of state for the first time in 15 years, the charter would also set up a a central military council to control the armed forces.

In general terms, the draft signals a return to the rule of law and the formal abolition of leftist charters promulgated in 1975 under Mao Tse-tung and 1978 under the now disgraced former chairman Hua Guofeng.

The new draft was first published for nationwide discussion last April.

Few changes appear to have been made to the version originally approved by the Communist Party and it is expected to be passed unanimously by this congress and to come into effect next year.

A report on the new constitution was given by former Peking Mayor Peng Zhen, first deputy congress chairman and regarded by some diplomats as a possible candidate for the state chairmanship.

In his statement, Peng said China would be highly flexible about how it ruled Taiwan under reunification, but would never submit to foreign pressure over the island.