Monday, October 15, 2007

China's 17th National Party Congress Opens in Beijing

The Chinese Communist Party is holding its 17th National Party Congress this week in Beijing. Here's the background:

Delivering the opening address at the ruling Communist Party’s 17th National Congress today, President Hu Jintao promised to address social fissures, a degraded environment and rampant corruption during his second term as China’s top leader, but he all but ruled out more than cosmetic political reform.

Mr. Hu spoke extensively about his “scientific view of development,” a set of lofty, vague principles supporting harmonious economic, social and political development.

The congress will enshrine the phrase “scientific view of development” into the party’s constitution alongside the political slogans of Mao, Deng Xiaoping, and Jian Zemin, elevating Mr. Hu into the pantheon of leaders as he begins the second and final term as party general secretary, head of state and military chief.

This speech kicked off the week-long event held once every five years to extol past leaders and welcome a roster of younger officials newly elevated to leadership roles.

Party members have described the succession contest, conducted in secret, as fractious. But the congress proceedings, which are purely ceremonial, present a facade of seamless unity and continuity.

In the main auditorium of the Great Hall of the People, under a giant hammer and sickle, Mr. Hu appeared on a rostrum with all the other members of the Politburo Standing Committee and the Central Committee arranged in precise hierarchical order. They were joined by party elders including Mr. Jiang, Mr. Hu’s direct predecessor, and at least two stalwarts of an earlier era, Wan Li and Song Ping, both more than 90 years old.

In keeping with tradition, Mr. Hu’s address, which lasted two and half hours, stressed the correctness of the rhetoric and guiding philosophies of the past. Though the text of the address ran to 64 pages, Mr. Hu discussed few specific government programs and provided only broad hints about what he intends to do between now and 2012, when under party retirement rules he will make way for a new top leader.

“China is going through a wide-ranging and deep-going transformation,” Mr. Hu told the 2,200 party delegates and a national television audience. “This brings us unprecedented opportunities as well as unprecedented challenges. On the whole, the opportunities outweigh the challenges.”

Mr. Hu tweaked one well established goal, which was to quadruple the economic output of the year 2000 by 2020, saying that the party would now aim to increase “per capital GDP” four-fold in the same period.

The switch to a per capita target reflects Mr. Hu’s emphasis on enhancing the benefits that the Chinese people derive from economic growth. But given that China’s population will likely increase by about two hundred million during the 20-year period, the new goal suggests that Mr. Hu now expects the economy, which has sustained double-digit growth for more than five years, to expand at an even faster pace than he and his predecessors forecast at the last party congress in 2002.

He called the international situation favorable to China, saying a “trend toward a multipolar world is irreversible.” He offered to hold peace talks with Taiwan, the self-governing island China claims as its territory, as long as the island’s leadership sets aside independence goals. The offer broke no new ground, but his tone was slightly softer than in the past.

Read the whole thing.

Considering the dramatic impact China's having on the world capitalist economy, it's good to remember that the Chinese political system remains a throwback to the era of Cold War rivalry between Communism and Western liberal democracy.

I see a little nostalgia for the old balance of power system in Hu's comments about the coming of a multipolar world. If Beijing gets its way, that balance of power system will ultimately shift to favor China, validating that country's long period of national mobilization designed to strengten the nation's power position on the world stage.

China's rigid, one-party authoritarianism combined with the country's dynamic, increasingly high-technology economy will continue to pose challenges to the contemporary global system. With all our attention on the Middle East, let us not forget that the time-honored tradition of balance of power jockeying continues in the background.