China leadership transfer under way
Chinese president Hu Jintao warned the country's incoming leaders today that corruption threatened the ruling Communist Party and the state. He said the party must stay in charge as it battles growing social unrest.
In a state-of-the-nation address to more than 2,000 hand-picked party delegates before he hands over power, Mr Hu acknowledged that public anger over corruption and issues like environmental degradation had undermined the party's support and led to surging numbers of protests.
In other comments, he promised political reform but ruled out copying Western-style democracy.
He also stressed the need to strengthen the armed forces and protect sea territory amid disputes with Japan and southeast Asian nations.
"Combating corruption and promoting political integrity, which is a major political issue of great concern to the people, is a clear-cut and long-term political commitment of the party," Mr Hu said.
"If we fail to handle this issue well, it could prove fatal to the party, and even cause the collapse of the party and the fall of the state. We must thus make unremitting efforts to combat corruption."
Mr Hu was opening a week-long congress at Beijing's Great Hall of the People that will usher in a once-in-a-decade leadership change in the world's second-largest economy.
Despite the high profile of the event and the focus on sensitive issues like reform and corruption, the comments were not considered unusual since they mainly reinforced existing ideas and themes.
"It was a rather conservative report," said Jin Zhong, the editor of Open Magazine, an independent Hong Kong publication that specialises in Chinese politics. "There's nothing in there that suggests any breakthrough in political reforms."
The run-up to the carefully choreographed meeting, at which Mr Hu will hand over his post as party chief to anointed successor Vice President Xi Jinping, has been overshadowed by a corruption scandal involving one-time high-flying politician Bo Xilai.
The party has accused him of taking bribes and abusing his power to cover up his wife's murder of a British businessman in the southwestern city of Chongqing, which he used to run.
While Mr Hu did not name Mr Bo - a man once considered a contender for top office himself - he left little doubt about the target. "All those who violate party discipline and state laws, whoever they are and whatever power or official positions they have, must be brought to justice without mercy," Mr Hu told delegates. "Leading officials, especially high-ranking officials, must ... exercise strict self-discipline and strengthen education and supervision over their families and their staff; and they should never seek any privilege."
The New York Times said last month that the family of Premier Wen Jiabao had accumulated at least $2.7 billion in "hidden riches", a report China labelled a smear.
Mr Hu entered the venue accompanied by Jiang Zemin (86), signalling the former president still wields influence in the party and in the secretive deliberations to decide on the new leaders. As Mr Hu delivered his speech under a massive, golden hammer and sickle, a healthy-looking Mr Jiang sat flanked by senior members.
The congress ends on November 14th, when the party's new Standing Committee, at the apex of power, will be unveiled.
Only Mr Xi and his deputy Li Keqiang are certain to be on what is likely to be a seven-member committee, and about eight other candidates are vying for the other places.
The congress also rubber-stamps the selection of about two dozen people to the party's Politburo, and approves scores of other appointments, including provincial chiefs and heads of some state-owned enterprises.
The meeting is a chance for Mr Hu to cement his legacy before retirement and ensure a smooth handover of power, and his prime-time speech was a chance to push his achievements and perhaps help steer a course going forward.
While Mr Hu promised "reforms to the political structure" and more encouragement of debate within the party, he gave no hint that China would allow broader popular participation.