Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) has called for unity in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and unflinching backing for economic reforms in the face of “unprecedented challenges,” as Beijing struggles with a scandal-hit leadership transition and economic slowdown.
Hu’s speech to dozens of top officials dominated the front pages of China’s major state-run newspapers yesterday, a sign of its importance in setting the themes for a party congress late this year that will install a new generation of leaders.
Using jargon-laden political slogans, Hu laid out two themes likely to dominate the congress: a call for conformity after the contentious dismissal of one-time leadership contender Bo Xilai (薄熙來) and a defense of Hu’s efforts to shift the economy to more balanced, equitable growth driven by domestic consumption.
“We confront unprecedented opportunities and also confront unprecedented challenges,” Hu said in the speech given to officials on Monday.
“We must unwaveringly take the correct course pioneered by the party and the people over a long period and neither flinch in the face of any dangers nor be distracted by any interference,” he said.
Hu did not mention the downfall of Bo, the ambitious party chief of Chongqing who was ousted in March over a scandal centered on accusations that Bo’s wife killed a British businessman. Nor did Hu lay out new policies.
However, Hu made clear that he sees keeping up economic growth and sharing more gains from that growth with workers and farmers — a theme he has labeled his “scientific outlook on development” — as his major political legacy and a policy that his successors must also follow.
“The theme of a scientific outlook on development, featuring an accelerated transformation of the mode of economic development, is a strategic choice that bears on our country’s whole pattern of development,” Hu said.
The meeting where Hu spoke was also a show of unity by the party elite, bringing together central leaders and many provincial-level officials who are candidates for promotion into the next generation of central leaders. The meeting was chaired by Hu’s likely successor, Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平).
Xi, 59, is virtually certain to replace Hu as CCP head later this year, and then as state president when the National Peoples Congress convenes in March next year.
“There was nothing new in the speech about economic or political reform, but it seems Hu was reiterating the consensus about the direction of policy and stressing that there should be no changes in it,” said Wu Si (吳思), editor-in-chief of the Yanhuang Chunqiu, a Beijing-based magazine that favors political reform to China’s one-party state.
“It’s saying amid all the controversy that this is Hu’s key theme and he expects it to remain the consensus,” Wu said.
China’s economy slowed for a sixth successive quarter to 7.6 percent in the April-June period, its slackest pace in more than three years and a rate only just above the government’s 7.5 percent target for this year.
Bo cast himself as a populist with his own recipe for shoring up growth while reversing China’s yawning social inequalities. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) accused Bo of betraying the policies of market-led economic reform.
“Only reform and opening up can develop China,” Hu told the officials, who included Wen.