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BEIJING: China’s president yesterday warned the Communist Party faces “collapse” if it fails to clean up corruption and called for an economic revamp as he opened a congress to inaugurate a new slate of leaders.
The week-long party congress will end with a transition of power to Vice President Xi Jinping, who will govern for the coming decade amid growing pressure for reform of the communist regime’s iron-clad grip on power.
The party’s outgoing general-secretary, President Hu Jintao, delivered his starkest warning yet about fighting rampant corruption following a top-level murder and graft scandal involving former regional boss Bo Xilai.
“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,” Hu told more than 2,200 delegates inside Beijing’s cavernous Great Hall of the People.
At the congress, which is held every five years, Hu also positioned the world’s second-largest economy for a more assertive role as he insisted China should be a “maritime power” that “resolutely” protects its interests.
Heading into the 18th party congress, China has been skirmishing with Japan and other Asian neighbours over a slew of territorial disputes, and flexing its growing military muscles to the disquiet of the United States.
“We must continue to make both active and prudent efforts to carry out reform of the political structure and make the people’s democracy more extensive, fuller in scope and sounder in practice,” Hu said.
Without naming Bo, the president added that the party “must make sure that all are equal before the law”.
There was more embarrassment in the lead-up to the congress with a New York Times report that said the family of premier Wen Jiabao had amassed $2.7bn in “hidden riches”.
And in June, business news agency Bloomberg published an investigation into the finances of Xi’s extended family which it said totalled $376m, although there was no indication of wrongdoing.
Observers said that despite Hu’s frank admissions, prospects for substantive reform in a hidebound political system were remote.
“The language is surprisingly strong but in terms of us seeing new action, it is doubtful,” said analyst Willy Lam of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, noting that past proclamations had yielded little change.
“It is very difficult to solve corruption because it has become an endemic problem. Everyone is doing it, all the main (political) families,” he said. “So it is almost mission impossible.”
Hu’s call for political reform also contrasted with the treatment meted out to would-be protestors outside the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square, where the army gunned down massed ranks of pro-democracy students in 1989.
A reporter saw two elderly women hustled away from the vast esplanade as they attempted to present petitions -- in a long-standing tradition by which ordinary citizens protest wrongdoing.