China leader warns of ‘collapse’ at start of congress

November 8, 2012 5:45 am

On China’s wildly popular social media websites, search terms related to the congress were censored but a few caustic responses to Hu’s speech got through. “What a joke. My high school essays were better than that!” one posting said.

In his 90-minute address, Hu also stressed that China must recalibrate its export- and investment-led growth model, after years of breakneck economic expansion that experts warn is unsustainable.

“In response to changes in both domestic and international economic developments, we should speed up the creation of a new growth model and ensure that development is based on improved quality and performance,” he said.

Communist leaders including Premier Wen Jiabao – who is due to step down in March as part of the leadership transition – have long been calling for China to rebalance its economy by fostering domestic consumer spending.

That would help redress China’s swollen trade surpluses, which have been an irritant to the West for years and cast the country as the foreign bogeyman of the just-concluded US presidential campaign.

But the economy still rests heavily tilted towards export-led growth. And with Western markets reeling, China in the latest quarter posted its slowest rate of growth since the global financial crisis in 2009.

The congress will end next week with the installation of Xi as the party’s new general-secretary, and he is in line to succeed Hu as state president next March.

But Xi, the son of a revolutionary hero who has been Hu’s heir apparent since 2007, will take over at a challenging time given the rare economic slowdown, amid demands for change from the country’s vocal netizens.

A state-run newspaper published a survey Wednesday suggesting eight out of 10 Chinese in major cities want political reform of some sort.

The contrast with how the United States manages its political affairs was laid bare with President Barack Obama’s re-election triumph, and did not go unnoticed among commentators on China’s “weibo” chat sites.

Behind closed doors, Communist Party leaders appear to have settled on the new line-up of the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s highest decision-making body, which will be unveiled when the congress ends on November 14.

The committee will be steered by Xi, 59, who has previously headed some of China’s most economically dynamic and reform-minded areas. But in the opaque communist system, little is known about his personality or policy inclinations.

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