Hu warns about graft, reiterates party control

Reuters, BEIJING

Fri, Nov 09, 2012 - Page 1

Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) yesterday warned China’s incoming leaders that corruption threatened the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the state, but said the party must stay in charge as it battles growing social unrest.

In a state-of-the-nation address to more than 2,000 hand-picked party delegates before he hands over power, Hu acknowledged that public anger over graft and issues like environmental degradation had undermined the party’s support and led to surging numbers of protests.

In other comments, he promised political reform, but ruled out copying Western-style democracy. He also stressed the need to strengthen the armed forces and protect sea territory amid disputes with Japan and Southeast Asian nations.

“Combating corruption and promoting political integrity, which is a major political issue of great concern to the people, is a clear-cut and long-term political commitment of the party,” Hu said.

“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. We must thus make unremitting efforts to combat corruption,” he said.

Hu was opening a weeklong congress at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People that will usher in a once-in-a-decade leadership change in the world’s second-largest economy. Despite the high profile of the event and the focus on sensitive issues like reform and graft, the comments were not considered unusual since they mainly reinforced existing ideas and themes.

“It was a rather conservative report,” said Jin Zhong (金鐘), the editor of Open Magazine, an independent Hong Kong publication that specializes in Chinese politics. “There’s nothing in there that suggests any breakthrough in political reforms.”

The run-up to the carefully choreographed meeting, at which Hu will hand over his post as party chief to his anointed successor, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平), has been overshadowed by a corruption scandal involving one-time high-flying politician Bo Xilai (薄熙來).

The party has accused him of taking bribes and abusing his power to cover up his wife’s murder of a British businessman in the southwestern city of Chongqing, which he used to run.

While Hu did not name Bo, he left little doubt about the target.

“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,” Hu told delegates, one of whom was his predecessor, Jiang Zemin (江澤民).

“Leading officials, especially high-ranking officials, must ... exercise strict self-discipline and strengthen education and supervision over their families and their staff; and they should never seek any privilege,” he said.

The New York Times said last month that the family of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) had accumulated at least US$2.7 billion in “hidden riches,” a report China labeled a smear.

Hu entered the venue accompanied by Jiang, 86, signaling the former president still wields influence in the party and in the secretive deliberations to decide on the new leaders. As Hu delivered his speech under a massive, golden hammer and sickle, a healthy-looking Jiang sat flanked by senior members, party elders such as Li Peng (李鵬) and incoming leaders such as Xi.

The congress ends on Wednesday, when the party’s new Standing Committee, at the apex of power, will be unveiled. Only Xi and his deputy, Li Keqiang (李克強), are certain to be on what is likely to be a seven-member committee, and about eight other candidates are vying for the other places.

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.