Nov 10, 2012

China - China leader indicates no major reform imminent

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BEIJING: China's outgoing leader has acknowledged the ills that plague the Communist Party but insisted it can cure itself, indicating no radical surgery to either the economy or politics by his successor.

In likely his final political testament given Thursday at China's ongoing Communist Party Congress, outgoing President Hu Jintao delivered a stark warning to his successor Vice President Xi Jinping on the rampant corruption infecting the ruling party.

"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," Hu told more than 2,200 delegates inside Beijing's cavernous Great Hall of the People.

But his report to the party at its most important political event in five years put forward little in the way of a road map for reform, which analysts said indicated a dangerous paralysis in the Chinese communist system that could have dire consequences.

"The party has become increasingly corrupt, the extent of corruption, graft and money grabbing has totally stained the image of the party," Sun Wenguang, a retired academic from east China's Shandong University, told AFP.

"If there is no power that can confront the rotting away of the party, then it will lead to a social crisis, an economic crisis or even an international crisis."

Hu is viewed by reformers as having missed a prime opportunity to push through reform of the political and economic systems during his ten years in power, a time when China enjoyed the advantage of high economic growth rates that could have eased such a transition.

Whether due to Hu's own cautious style, or the restrictions of a system that relies on consensus rather than bold leadership, critics say this failure has left China facing problems of rising social unrest and worsening graft blamed on an unresponsive political system.

Hu is also considered to have failed to rejuvenate a growth model that leaves China over-reliant on exports and investment, leading to unsustainable expansion that has spawned a rich-poor gap, environmental degradation, and other ills.

That leaves his successor Xi Jinping to deal with the aftermath.

When the congress ends next Wednesday, Xi will inherit the reins of the world's largest political party, whose 82 million members control all sectors of society, including the economy.

The lead-up to the congress has been accompanied by intense speculation over whether Xi intends -- or is able to -- act aggressively to contain ills such as the endemic corruption that Hu warned could lead to the "collapse" of the party.

Xi, whose resume includes heading Fujian and Zhejiang -- key eastern manufacturing provinces at the forefront of China's economic reform effort -- is believed to be favoured by former Chinese president Jiang Zemin.

Jiang, now a towering figure in the party, is considered a proponent of reform.

While Hu's address warned of the dangers of corruption and the need for a "new economic growth model" he offered little in the way of a prescription beyond calls for faith in "Marxism, Leninism, and Mao Zedong thought" and other party boilerplates.

Hu's restating of party dogma, insisting that the nation must unite behind the Communists in order to move forward and that China would "never copy a Western political system", were also interpreted by analysts as signs that as far as the party is concerned it is business is usual, and real change remains distant.

"Conservative forces within the Party are still very powerful," Qian Gang of the China Media Project at the University of Hong Kong said in an analysis of Hu's speech.

"According to the line marked out by the political report to the 18th National Congress, there is very little prospect that substantive moves will be made on political reform."

Such contradictions between the party's grave pronouncements and its actions point to an apparent inability to clean its own house, say analysts, especially on corruption.

With regular reports of officials abusing their power and flagrant acts of graft already a permanent fixture of Chinese politics, western media reports have recently detailed huge fortunes gathered by top leaders, including Xi.

The shocking scandal surrounding Bo Xilai, an ousted senior leader once viewed as a rising star, also sullied preparations for the five-yearly congress.

Bo's wife was convicted in August of murdering a British businessman while he was been tossed from the party -- and is awaiting trial -- amid allegations of graft and abuse of power.

- AFP/fa

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