Connect to share and comment

China: Where the Party's at

Two days of China's Communist Party Congress have come and gone. Here are highlights.

155928737Enlarge
Delegates from Beijing hold a meeting in the Beijing room at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on November 9, 2012. (Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images)

On Thursday, China opened its week-long Party Congress, at which the Party will announce its leadership for at least the next five years.

So far, the event has been mostly unsurprising. On Thursday, in a two-hour speach, outgoing President Hu Jintao sent mixed messages — stressing the need to end endemic corruption, while calling for more investment in notoriously corrupt state-run firms. On Friday, delegates largely echoed his sentiments.

Despite the lack of drama, the Party Congress is a widely watched event, given that it is one the few windows into the opaque government of the world's largest nation. Here's a recap of the first two days' events.

More from GlobalPost: Obama, meet your rivals, China's new generation of leaders

Day One: Even before outgoing President Hu Jintao took the podium at the start of the Communist Party’s 18th National Congress on Thursday, media had reported that six Tibetans set themselves on fire to protest China’s heavy handed rule.

The news highlighted a raft of problems facing the world’s second largest economy as presumptive leader and current Vice President Xi Jinping is expected to take the reins in March.

According to Hu, who spoke in front of 2,200 delegates from across the country, endemic corruption threatens to bring down the Party after more than six decades in power.

"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 said in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.

Most observers took his remarks as a swipe against disgraced former Party heavyweight Bo Xilai, who is under investigation for corruption, abuse of power and “improper sexual relations” following his wife’s conviction for the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.

Others found Hu's comments ironic given a recent Bloomberg report detailing Xi Jinping’s family’s vast financial holdings. That story was followed a week later by a New York Times’ report alleging that the family of outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao, Hu's righthand man, holds more than $2.7 billion in assets.

Hu raised questions about his commitment to cleaning up entrenched corruption when he called for further investments into major government firms. China’s massive state-owned enterprises are often home to vested interests, including princelings — the scions of Communist royalty known as much for their powerful connections as the corruption they partake in.

"[We should] invest more state capital in major industries in key fields that comprise the lifeline of the economy and are vital to national security," Hu said.

Hu also spoke of the need to strengthen China’s naval capabilities. Beijing is embroiled in a string of bitter territorial disputes with Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan and Vietnam over the resource rich South and East China Seas.

Beijing should "build China into a maritime power," Hu said, pointing to the “need to exploit marine resources and resolutely safeguard China's maritime rights and interests.”

On Taiwan, still a potential regional flashpoint despite rapidly warming ties between the two sides, Hu warned Taipei against moving toward formal independence. China considers Taiwan a renegade province and has vowed to annex it if necessary “to bring it back into the fold.”

“We resolutely oppose any separatist attempt for Taiwan independence. The Chinese people will never allow anyone or any force to separate Taiwan from the motherland by any means,” Hu said. “We will agree to interact with, conduct dialogue with and cooperate with any political parties in Taiwan, as long as they do not advocate Taiwan independence.”

Hu also spoke on other major issues affecting the burgeoning superpower, including environmental degradation, health care and food safety.

Day Two:

On the second day, delegates agreed with Hu’s speech from the day before, and even reread the parts they liked the best.

There was an emphasis placed on Hu’s calls for strengthening the bloated state-owned enterprises.

"We remained unswervingly committed to exercising state-owned capital's power of motivation, influence, and control in emerging industries related to national security and the country's economic foundation and lifeblood," said Wang Huisheng, chairman of the State Development Investment Company.

Reformers and foreign businesses and governments have long called the size and monopolistic dominance of Chinese state-owned companies a drag on the economy due to their massive corruption and waste. Chinese state-owned firms are some of the biggest in the world. Of the 70 Chinese companies listed on the 2012 Fortune Global 500, 65 are state-owned.

Talk of reform has been noticably absent thus far, prompting analysts to speculate that potential democratic advances have been shelved in favor of stability.

"The biggest risk comes from the top levels," said Sun Jiacheng, vice chairman of the People’s Consultative Conference, an advisory committee to Parliament. The '89 political storm was a problem in the upper levels. The collapse of the Communist Party Soviet Union over the course of several decades can be blamed on [Mikhail] Gorbachev. And the Bo Xilai problem has rung an alarm for us to retain our purity, resolve and unity in the upper ranks of the party,”

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/china/121109/communist-party-congress-hu-jintao-xi-jinping