Chinese President promises greater accountability

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The Independent Online

Chinese leader Hu Jintao pledged to make communist rule more inclusive and better spread the fruits of China's economic boom, in an address yesterday to a party congress that offers a key test of his authority.

Hu also offered talks on a formal peace accord with Taiwan, but the vague proposal included preconditions unacceptable to the island which quickly rejected it.

Hu's 2 hour 20 minute speech — the most public event at the once-every-five-years congress — outlined no bold initiatives, but offered something for each of the party's key factions: tinkering with the authoritarian political system for the party's liberal wing, more money for the politically influential military and praises for Marx and Mao Zedong for more orthodox party members.

Hu "is a fairly strong leader within a system where you have to share," said Dali Yang, a China expert at the National University of Singapore. "This helps keep a balance of power."

The weeklong conclave's chief purpose is to reappoint Hu for a second five-year term as party general secretary. A key measure of Hu's influence will be how many of his political allies he can maneuver into top party jobs, including proteges expected to take over from him when he steps down in five years.

Hu, 65, is expected to push for the elevation of protege Li Keqiang, 52, onto the powerful Politburo Standing Committee, while Xi Jinping, the 54-year-old party boss of Shanghai and the son of a revolutionary veteran, is also expected to get a seat.

In his address, Hu outlined policies intended to make China more prosperous and stable by raising incomes and improving the party's hold on a fast-changing society.

While offering few specifics, Hu said Chinese citizens would have "more extensive democratic rights" by 2020, China's target year for establishing lasting economic security, even as the party retains its monopoly on political power.

Since Hu took the reins in 2002, China's economy has expanded 75 percent to become the world's fourth largest, giving the government greater sway over international affairs.