China's top communists met behind closed doors yesterday at a key party congress that will reappoint the country's core leadership and promote a slate of fresh faces into powerful positions.
The sensitive transition comes as China's economy continues to surge but amid rising public anger over corruption, pollution and a yawning wealth gap between the rural poor and the better-off populations in the booming coastal cities.
In a speech marking the opening of the once-every-five-years Communist Party Congress on Monday, Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) promised modest steps to reform the government, build up the military and expand social programs.
Hu outlined no bold initiatives. But he offered something for most key constituencies -- tinkering with the authoritarian political system for the party's liberal wing, more money for the politically influential military and praise for Marx and Mao Zedong (
The meeting, which ends on Sunday, is seen as a critical test of his political skills. He is to be reappointed for a second and probably final five-year term but key measures of his influence will be how many supporters he can maneuver into key positions.
Hu, 65, is expected to push for the elevation of protege Li Keqiang (
Since Hu took the reins in 2002, China's economy has expanded 75 percent to become the world's fourth-largest, giving the government greater sway over international affairs.
"During this period, China's overall strength grew considerably and the people enjoyed more tangible benefits. China's international standing and influence rose notably," Hu told the 2,200 delegates inside the Great Hall of the People.
He cited China's manned space flight and next year's Beijing Olympics.
The front pages of China's leading newspapers were liberally splashed with patriotic red font and offered nearly identical, and uniformly positive, coverage of the event.
Ahead of the congress, the government detained political activists and closed down many interactive Internet sites.
Much of the speech centered on Hu's signature policy, a program to channel breakneck development by spreading the benefits of economic growth more evenly. As part of that effort, he promised to expand social security and health insurance programs and expand subsidies for rural education.
The programs are intended to bridge social divisions that have erupted.
"There are still a considerable number of impoverished and low-income people in both urban and rural areas, and it has become more difficult to accommodate the interests of all sides," Hu said.
Hu offered minor reforms intended to make the government more responsive to public demands. Government advisory bodies that include nonparty members would be expanded and party-controlled legislatures will get more rural representatives.
But he made clear that the changes would not challenge one-party rule.
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