China’s Hu says graft threatens state, party must stay in charge

BEIJING,  (Reuters) – President Hu Jintao warned China’s incoming leaders yesterday that corruption threatened the ruling Communist Party 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.

“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 promised political reform, but only to a degree, saying: “We will never copy a Western political system.”

“We will neither walk on the closed and rigid road, nor will we walk down the evil road of changing (our) flags and banners,” Hu said.

He also stressed the need to strengthen the armed forces and protect sea territory amid disputes with Japan and Southeast Asian nations.

Hu was opening a week-long 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, the editor of Open Magazine, an independent Hong Kong publication that specialises 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 anointed successor Vice President Xi Jinping, has been overshadowed by a corruption scandal involving one-time high-flying politician Bo Xilai.

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 – a man once considered a contender for top office himself – 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. “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.” The New York Times said last month that the family of Premier Wen Jiabao had accumulated at least $2.7 billion in “hidden riches”, a report China labelled a smear.

JIANG’S CLOUT
Hu entered the venue accompanied by Jiang, 86, signalling 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 and incoming leaders such as Xi.

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