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As the major conclave of the Chinese Communist Party kicked off at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing yesterday, scores of dissidents were said to have been detained across the country that spans a geographical and ethnic diversity across a large swathe of land. Embodying an air of secrecy that pervades Chinese public affairs, the meeting did not release an official schedule, understandably to thwart any design to anticipate the closed-door sessions of the Communist Party.
The once-in-a-decade conclave, a vital event in Chinese politics, chooses party members who effectively run China for the next ten years. The Standing Committee of the Politburo, currently a 9-member body, will be chosen at this meeting by a central committee that is selected at the meeting. The Standing Committee is the highest policy-making body of the Communist Party and it is at its bidding that the huge nation of close to 1.5bn people is effectively governed. There has been speculation ahead of the congress that the size of the Standing Committee will be reduced from nine to seven. President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao are expected to step down from the Standing Committee.
Vice President Xi Jinping is set to take over from Hu Jintao as president of the country in March 2013. At the very outset of the key meeting, Hu warned the party that if corruption is not tackled effectively, it may lead to the collapse of the party and the downfall of the nation. The stark warning by the most important leader of the country will resonate not only in the party, but across China, and to some extent in the world. Hu’s highly critical remarks against graft come in the wake of the Bo Xilai scandal that shook the very foundations of Chinese polity despite the party trying its best to withhold information and maintain an air of opacity around the issue. As sordid details of the Bo scandal rolled out, it was revealed that the senior leader of the Communist Party had amassed a fortune out of shady deals by virtue of his position in the government. Most shocking was the death of British businessman Neil Heywood in Chongqing last year. As the scandal, triggered by the flight of Chongqing police chief —Wang Lijun — to the US Consulate in Chengdu, unravelled, a probe into the suspicious death of Heywood was ordered. Finally, Bo’s wife Gu, it was found, had poisoned Heywood to death. She got a suspended death sentence.
Graft is only one of the myriad problems that plague Chinese society today. The forthcoming change in leadership in the most populated nation of the world will have to contend with a China that is trying to integrate into the world community. Leaders will have to see that the aspirations of the Chinese to be free and live in a democratic society are not crushed by the might of the state. The policy-makers need to balance a commitment to the political canon they follow with the needs of Chinese society. Change should come in China, and the earlier the better.