China's Communist Party Congress opens with a warning (+video)
As China's once-in-a-decade leadership transition got under way, outgoing President Hu Jintao warned bluntly that the Communist Party faces 'collapse' if it fails to clean up corruption.
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Outgoing Chinese leader Hu Jintao opened the Communist Party’s 18th Congress here Thursday with a wide-ranging speech surveying the achievements of his decade in office, but denying succor to those hoping for democratic reform.Skip to next paragraph
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In an address full of platitudes and generalities, Mr. Hu insisted on the Communist Party’s right to rule China. But in unusually blunt language he warned that corruption could destroy it.
The 90-minute speech offered no hint of a change in government direction as Hu hands power to the next generation of Communist Party leaders, after 10 years that have seen remarkable economic growth but no significant political opening.
“There were no surprises,” says Wen Yunchao, a commentator with Sun Political Affairs Weekly in Hong Kong. “We’ve heard 99.5 percent of it before.”
Hu’s address in the cavernous Great Hall of the People to 2,268 congress delegates was a classic piece of traditional Communist Party theater. Standing at a heavy, flower-bedecked lectern in front of a giant hammer and sickle, the stage backdrop hung with red drapes, Hu spoke in his characteristically wooden style, his face unsmiling and his delivery flat. Every now and again, the assembled delegates would break into short bursts of dutiful applause.
The most dramatic moment came when he raised his voice to warn that growing public anger at official corruption “could prove fatal to the party, and even cause the collapse of the party and the fall of the state.” He urged “unremitting efforts to combat corruption,” which has poisoned almost every level of official Chinese life.
More of the same?
Critics doubt, however, whether his words will mean much in practice, not least because Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has made similar comments on many occasions, to little effect.
“I have no confidence in his anticorruption comments because he said nothing about institutional reform, nor about opening up the media and allowing freedom of speech” that might help unveil corruption, says Mr. Wen, the commentator based in Hong Kong.
“The elites know that anticorruption drives cannot be enforced unless there is political reform, and since they do not expect that, they know that anticorruption is just a slogan,” adds Yao Bo, writer of one of China’s most popular political blogs.
Though Hu called on the party to “make both active and prudent efforts to carry out reform of the political structure,” the language he used was similar to earlier exhortations that have come to naught, says Qian Gang, director of the China Media Project at Hong Kong University, who closely analyzes the texts of official speeches.
“People who have been expecting political reform in China will be disappointed by this speech,” says Mr. Qian. “There was nothing new, and there seem to be a lot of obstacles to reform” thrown up by powerful conservative factions within the Communist Party.