Chinese President Hu Jintao: A parting shot from the world’s most powerful man

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

After hailing a ‘glorious decade’ in power, the outgoing Chinese President served a dire warning on his successors at Congress to tackle corruption and social unrest – or lose everything

China’s 18th Communist Party Congress, popularly known as “The Eighteenth Big”, kicked off in the Great Hall of the People in downtown Beijing yesterday as the world’s most populous nation geared up for a once-in-a-decade leadership transition.

A giant red star looked down from the ceiling on a hall bedecked with red flags and packed with nearly 2,300 hand-picked delegates, seated in careful rows for the start of the week-long session.

The meeting takes place against a backdrop of growing social unrest, public anger at corruption and a widening wealth gap. The meeting is expected to name Xi Jinping as China’s new leader.

In a 100-minute speech to open the event, outgoing President Hu Jintao hailed his 10 years as the country’s president as China’s “glorious decade” but warned that corruption – a regular theme in the run-up to the meeting – threatened the ruling Communist Party and the state.

“If we fail to handle corruption, it could prove fatal to the party, and even cause the collapse of the party and the fall of the state,” said Mr Hu, addressing the gathering from a vivid, red and gold stage.

His remarks, which hail from a report entitled, “Firmly March on the Path of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics and Strive to Complete the Building of a Moderately Prosperous Society in all Respects”, were greeted by regular rounds of applause.

“Reform of the political structure is an important part of China’s overall reform. We must continue to make both active and prudent efforts to carry out the reform of the political structure and make people’s democracy more extensive, fuller in scope and sounder in practice,” Mr Hu said.

By democracy, Mr Hu is almost certainly talking about greater representation at grassroots level within the 82 million member Communist Party, not greater democracy in a Western sense. Congress spokesman Cai Mingzhao said earlier this week that nothing could threaten one-party rule.

Ordinary Chinese are becoming increasingly frustrated with corruption, especially among the families of senior officials. But for the party the issue has been most pointed with the purging of former rising star Bo Xilai, who was accused of taking bribes, of various sexual peccadilloes and of links to the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood. Bo’s wife Gu Kailai has already been given a suspended death sentence for her part in the Briton’s death, while his one-time protégé and close associate Wang Lijun has also been jailed for treason and corrupt practice linked to Mr Bo.

“We must never let words act in place of the law or personal power replace the law; nor will we allow the ignoring of the law for personal benefit,” Mr Hu said, in a clear reference to Mr Bo.

One word which leaders have referred to regularly is “stability”, something that has been fundamental to Mr Hu’s decade in power, when he steered a steady, but deeply conservative path. For most of that decade in power, China was the fastest growing major economy in the world, with double-digit rates of economic growth every year. Mr Hu’s decade in China has substantially improved the living standards of most Chinese.

Keeping economic growth on track is the central plank of maintaining support for the Communist Party, which claims its legitimacy from a revolution which took place in 1949.

The sweeping changes in today’s China mean the party has to find relevance in other areas, including managing the economy to keep gross domestic product rising.

Mr Hu called for more balanced growth and said China should double GDP per capita income by 2020, but it is becoming increasingly obvious that China needs to reform in order to keep growing.

Kerry Brown, executive director of the China Studies Centre, believes Mr Hu’s basic message is for the next leaders to follow his path until they can go no further, then the government can reassess things. “His legacy will be consensus-led, collective leadership in an age in which Chinese society was undergoing fast, profound and disorientating changes,” he said.

Beijing has been in security lockdown for the event. Racing pigeons have been banned, and taxis ordered to remove window handles from the back seats of cars, to stop people passing out seditious messages.

Human rights groups claim the police have rounded up the usual suspects ahead of the meeting. Police dragged away one yelling protester as the Chinese national flag was raised on Tiananmen Square at dawn.

And access to the internet has slowed to a crawl as the system of online controls – the so-called “Great Firewall of China” – kicks in.

It is also affecting virtual private networks that allow users to bypass internet filters.

There were elements in Mr Hu’s speech that might unsettle China’s neighbours. As bad relations between China and Japan continue to fester over a chain of disputed islands, Tokyo will not have been best pleased to hear Mr Hu talk of strengthening China’s military, especially the navy.

“We should enhance our capacity for exploiting marine resources, resolutely safeguard China’s maritime rights and interests and build China into a maritime power,” he said.

Cue another carefully choreographed round of applause.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss