, BEIJING, October 23- China’s Communist rulers declared Thursday that the country would embrace the “rule of law with Chinese characteristics”, official media reported after a key party meeting touted as heralding legal reform.
More than 360 full and reserve members of the party’s Central Committee gathered in Beijing this week for the highly anticipated meeting, known as the Fourth Plenum.
China’s ruling party had cast the conclave as a pivotal moment for reform of the country’s legal system, and announced in July that the theme of the meeting would be “rule of law”.
But experts caution that in China the phrase refers to a greater centralisation of control by the ruling party rather than a separation of powers, and had predicted the meeting would tighten the authorities’ grip.
The communique issued at the gathering’s close described the party’s intent as a legal system serving “the socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics”, the official news agency Xinhua said.
China will ensure the Communist Party’s leadership is achieving the goal, it added, saying the meeting had “set a blueprint for rule of law in the world’s second-largest economy”.
The gathering also expelled from the party five high-ranking officials, several of them senior allies of fallen former security chief Zhou Yongkang, and a People’s Liberation Army general, Xinhua said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping addressed rows of cadres seated inside a hall decorated with large Chinese flags, and the Communist anthem the Internationale played, state broadcaster China Central Television’s evening news broadcast showed.
– Officials ‘purged’ –
The expulsion of the five civilian officials had been hinted at in state media ahead of the summit.
They were former vice minister of public security Li Dongsheng; former top regulator of state-owned enterprises Jiang Jiemin; former China National Petroleum Corporation manager Wang Yongchun; former Sichuan province party chief Li Chuncheng; and Guangzhou party secretary Wan Qingliang.
All but Wan are close allies of Zhou, the powerful former domestic security tsar who fell to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s much-publicised anti-corruption campaign.
Also expelled was Yang Jinshan, a general who was deputy commander of the PLA’s Chengdu Military Area Command in southwest China.
Kerry Brown, a professor of Chinese politics at the University of Sydney, said earlier that the far-reaching campaign had shown the party views endemic graft as “a political issue” as well as a moral one.
“The party, in a time of austerity, cannot tolerate this kind of political and economic inefficiency,” he said, describing expelled officials as having been “purged” from the ranks of the ruling elite.
The party’s internal watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), will hold its own fourth plenum on Saturday, Xinhua said, at which it is expected to take action against several disgraced officials including Zhou.
China under Xi is also in the midst of a campaign against dissent that rights groups have called the harshest such crackdown in decades.
Hundreds of lawyers, scholars, journalists and activists have been rounded up and authorities have taken increasing steps to penalise citizens who have criticised the party via online media.
Last month 81 year old writer and longtime Communist Party critic Tie Liu, whose real name is Huang Zerong, was taken away by Beijing police.
Hours before the plenum’s conclusion, Beijing-based rights lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan wrote on Twitter that the writer had been arrested “on suspicion of running an illegal business and for the crime of picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, according to a notification given to his family.
Tie spent more than 20 years in labour camps after he criticised Mao Zedong, founding father of the People’s Republic, as a young journalist before being rehabilitated in 1980.