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Jiang rules out democratic reform

Jiang and Zhu
Chinese President Jiang Zemin (R) and Premier Zhu Rongji (L) at the opening session of the 16th Chinese Communist Party Congress

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CONGRESS FACTS

  • 2,114 delegates attending
  • 1,375 Chinese and foreign media covering the event
  • Big issue: Announcement of China's new leadership, the elite seven-member Politburo Standing Committee
  • BEIJING, China (CNN) -- Western-style multi-party democracy has been ruled out in a speech by China's Communist Party chief Jiang Zemin.

    In his opening address to the 16th Communist Party Congress, Jiang borrowed from the founder of communist China, Chairman Mao Zedong, in his appeal for academic and political openness.

    "We must keep to the orientation of serving the people, and socialism, and the principle of letting 100 flowers bloom and a 100 schools of thought contend and highlight the themes of the times while encouraging diversity," Jiang said in his speech on Friday.

    The Congress is expected to focus on political reform within the party.

    It is also a crucial meeting that will determine the next generation of leaders expected to have a profound impact on the country and its relations with the world.

    Any reforms, however, will be limited, with the new leaders likely to stick to China's current direction.

    Jiang said China would push ahead with grassroots changes which have fostered village elections.

    "We must always proceed from our national conditions, review our experience gained in practice and at the same time learn from the achievements of political civilisation of mankind," he said.

    "We should never copy any models of the political system of the West."

    Secrecy

    A shroud of secrecy has surrounded all the major decisions to come out of the gathering of more than 2,000 delegates, which began with a lavish opening ceremony at Beijing's vast Great Hall of the People on Friday morning.

    Held once every five years, the assembly is set to approve the first major reshuffle of China's leadership in a decade, with 76-year-old President and party chief Jiang Zemin, as well as other veterans including Premier Zhu Rongji and National People's Congress Chairman Li Peng, expected to retire.

    They are set to be replaced by a younger, so-called "fourth generation", dominated by technocrats like Vice-President Hu Jintao who's seen as almost certain to take over Beijing's leadership. (Profile: Hu Jintao)

    The leadership is also determined that the handover of power will run smoothly, with any major policy changes unlikely to be introduced until the new-lineup is well entrenched in its role.

    Complications

    Observers have been debating what role Jiang will take up should he, as expected, retire as party chief
    Observers have been debating what role Jiang will take up should he, as expected, retire as party chief

    But complications in the transition may arise with the out-going Jiang anticipated to remain the power behind the throne.

    Analysts say this will force the comparatively colorless Hu, as Jiang's replacement as leader, to move fast to consolidate power and build up a national stature. (Rocky road for Hu)

    Outside of China, international attention will be fixed on who will run Beijing's diplomatic and national security apparatus after the Congress.

    Jiang and Vice-Premier Qian Qichen have dominated foreign and military policies, but with both set to step down, international observers are curious as to who will fill the void and what, if any, role Jiang will decide to take. (World awaits new regime)

    "This is the first party Congress in the new century. We believe that after the Congress China's development will move faster and we'll have better results to show," Wang Hongbin, Nanjie Village party chief and Congress delegate, told CNN. . (Congress agenda)

    Observers have been debating and eagerly anticipating which factions or leaders will emerge victorious, although analysts say the seven men set to take make up the elite Poltiburo Standing Committee have already been well-groomed for the posts. (China's top seven revealed)

    Dissident view

    Despite the effusive praise of the state-controlled media, not all are impressed.

    "The Party tells its officials to do good for the common people by providing more housing, keeping food prices low, and solving traffic problems. Their aim is not to improve people's quality of life but to keep the Party's totalitarian rule," says pro-democracy dissident Fang Jue who was detained on the eve of the Congress.

    Faced with the task of boosting the party's influence and relevance in a rapidly modernizing China, Jiang wants to admit select capitalists into the party of the working class.

    Murray Scot Tanner, China expert and political science professor at Western Michigan University, says the outgoing president wants to ensure the party remains relevent well into the new century.

    "Jiang Zemin is betting that if he lures into the party the wealthiest, most economically prosperous and economically powerful people emerging in China today, that this can create a new stronger long-term base of support for the party," he says.



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