, BEIJING, Nov 8 – China’s president on Thursday warned the Communist Party faces “collapse” if it fails to clean up corruption and called for an economic revamp as he opened a congress to inaugurate a new slate of leaders.
The week-long party congress will end with a transition of power to Vice President Xi Jinping, who will govern for the coming decade amid growing pressure for reform of the communist regime’s iron-clad grip on power.
The party’s outgoing general-secretary, President Hu Jintao, delivered his starkest warning yet about fighting rampant corruption following a top-level murder and graft scandal involving former regional boss Bo Xilai.
“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.
At the congress, which is held every five years, Hu also positioned the world’s second-largest economy for a more assertive role as he insisted China should be a “maritime power” that “resolutely” protects its interests.
Heading into the 18th party congress, China has been skirmishing with Japan and other Asian neighbours over a slew of territorial disputes, and flexing its growing military muscles to the disquiet of the United States.
“We must continue to make both active and prudent efforts to carry out reform of the political structure and make the people’s democracy more extensive, fuller in scope and sounder in practice,” Hu also said.
Without naming Bo, the president added that the party “must make sure that all are equal before the law”.
But Hu’s call for political reform contrasted with the treatment meted out to would-be protestors outside the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square, where the army gunned down massed ranks of pro-democracy students in 1989.
An AFP reporter saw two elderly women hustled away from the vast esplanade as they attempted to present petitions against wrongdoing by their local communist leaders.
One woman was bundled into a police van and the other led away sobbing as police shooed away onlookers at the scene. In a metro station near the square, another group of up to 30 petitioners were surrounded and taken away by bus.
Hundreds of activists have been put under house arrest, rights groups say, while Beijing taxi drivers have been told to lock their back windows apparently to prevent passengers from throwing out flyers with political messages.