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.
“We must uphold the leadership of the party,” Hu said.
He also named healthcare, housing, the environment, food and drug safety and public security as areas where problems had “increased markedly”.
While Hu will step down as party leader, Xi will only take over state duties at the annual meeting of parliament in March.
The government has tightened security in the run-up to the congress, even banning the flying of pigeons in the capital, and has either locked up or expelled dozens of dissidents.
Security was especially tight yesterday around the Great Hall and Tiananmen Square next door, the scene of pro-democracy protests in 1989 that were crushed by the military.
Police dragged away a screaming protester as the Chinese national flag was raised at dawn.