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China braces for leadership change

Beijing, November 8, 2012, Agencies:

Graft, faltering economy major concern

Vice President Xi Jinping sings the national anthem during the opening of 18th Communist Party Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Thursday. AFP

A day after the world’s most powerful nation re-elected Barack Obama as the US President, China, the second most powerful country, set the ball rolling for its once-in-a-decade leadership change as the ruling Chinese Communist Party opened a week-long party congress on Thursday.
 
But the style and process of effecting the leadership change are vastly different. If the rivals for the top US job had criss-crossed the country to garner popular support to win the November 6 presidential election, in China it is the party that calls the shots – the top echelon of the Communist Party of China (CPC) that decides the new leadership line-up.

Attended by 2,270 chosen delegates, the CPC Congress will usher in the new leadership change in the course of the week-long meeting. But ahead of the Congress, the outgoing leadership has already decided on elevating incumbent Vice-President Xi Jinping (59) to take over as party general secretary and as the country’s president. Vice Premier Li Keqiang is widely believed to be the successor to Wen Jiabao as the country’s premier.

The rest of the leadership, including the seven or nine-member standing committee, which virtually rules the country, 24-member politburo and the 365-member central committee would be announced at the end of the Congress. The names of the new leaders would be officially announced on November 14, the last day of the Congress and they would formally take over early next year.


Opening the Congress at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, outgoing party general secretary and President Hu Jintao made it very clear to the world that China did not intend to introduce western-type democracy in the country. Under the single-party rule of the CPC, China will continue to have its socialist political system and seek to strengthen that system of governance.

“We will never copy a western political system,” Hu said. “We must continue to make both active and prudent efforts to carry out the reform of the political structure, and make people’s democracy more extensive, fuller in scope and sounder in practice,” he said.

However, he told fellow members that the party cannot expect that the party rule will remain stable if the people lose faith in the party.

Hu identified corruption and faltering economy, widening income gap between the rich and poor as the issues which could derail the party rule. Corruption in the ruling Communist Party could prove “fatal” to its 63-year-long grip over the country, Hu said.

“If we fail to handle this issue (corruption) well, it could prove fatal to the party, and even cause the collapse of the party and the fall of the state,” Hu, who will be stepping down as president and general secretary of the CPC, said in his keynote report to the Congress. Under Hu’s leadership in the past decade, China has emerged as the second largest economy. However, corruption has become the main issue dogging the ruling party and the country undermining the strength of significant growth rates that has improved the living standards 1.3 billion Chinese. The party must maintain a tough position in cracking down on corruption at all times and conduct thorough investigations into major corruption cases, Hu said in the address telecast live all over the country.

“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,” he said.

“Leading officials at all levels, especially high-ranking officials, must readily observe the code of conduct on clean governance and report all important matters,” Hu said.

While corruption has become endemic in China with a number of high ranking officials facing severe punishment, the country and the party shook by major scandals involving top leaders in the recent past.  Disgraced leader Bo Xilai and former Railway Minister Liu Zhijun were sacked for serious charges of corruption.

Ahead of the Congress, the party was rocked by an investigative report by “The New York Times” that Premier Wen’s family accumulated $2.7 billion wealth during his 10-year rule. The Party has instituted an inquiry reportedly at the request of Wen himself.

Earlier a Bloomberg news agency alleged similar wealth accumulation by the family of Vice-President Xi, who is set to take over from Hu, both as president and head of the party.The Congress is being held in the shadows of the Bo scandal as well as declining growth rate of the economy which slid to 7.4 per cent from nearly about 12 per cent thee years ago.Hu said it would speed up modernisation of military and build itself into a “maritime power”, an announcement which may cause anxiety in India and some other neighbours of the Communist giant.

Invoking Chinese Communist Party leader Mao Zedong’s military strategic theories, which were stated to be one of the successes of Chinese revolution, Hu said that China will speed up modernisation of its 2.3 million-strong People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the world’s largest standing army.

Hu warned Taiwan against any moves towards independence but called for the two sides to continue the exchanges that have helped ease their long time rivalry. “We resolutely oppose any separatist attempt for Taiwan independence,” Hu said.

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