BEIJING – Preparing to hand over power after a decade in office, China’s President Hu Jintao called today for sterner measures to combat official corruption that has stoked public anger while urging the Communist Party to maintain firm political control.
In a 90-minute speech opening a weeklong party congress to usher in new leaders for the coming decade, Hu cited many of the challenges China faces – a rich-poor gap, environmentally ruinous growth and the imbalanced development between prosperous cities and a struggling countryside.
Yet he offered little evidence of fresh thinking to address ways to reinvigorate a flagging economy and meet public demands for a more open government. Instead he outlined more of the piecemeal policy-making that has been the hallmark of his 10 years in power.
Only in addressing the rampant graft did he sound the alarm. Hu singled out party members, calling on them to be ethical and to rein in their family members, whose trading on their connections for money and lavish displays of wealth have deepened public cynicism about the party.
“Nobody is above the law,” Hu said to the applause of the 2,309 delegates and invited guests gathered in the Great Hall of the People, with his successor, Vice President Xi Jinping, and other party notables on the dais behind him.
He later 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.”
The tough appeal on corruption follows months of scandal that have further battered the party’s image in the public eye and made the power transfer more divisive.