China’s Communist Party: Change of the Guard

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Chinese President Hu Jintao gives a speech at the opening session of the Chinese Communist Party's five-yearly Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on 9 November 2012. (Photo: AFP - Mark Ralston)

By: Omar Nashabe

Published Friday, November 9, 2012

The 18th congress of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, which is held every five years to elect a new leadership and discuss the direction of the party, opened in Beijing’s Great Hall on Thursday.

Over the course of the next week, upwards of 2000 delegates – representing 82 million party members – will discuss the future of the second largest economy in the world behind closed doors. At the end of their deliberations, they will elect a new central committee, which will in turn choose the country's highest decision-making body, the Standing Committee of the Politburo.

In his opening remarks, the party’s current general secretary and China’s president since 2003, Hu Jintao, said, “Our country still enjoys important strategic opportunities that will allow for higher growth rates.”

He read a report detailing the achievements of the party since the last congress, stressing “a scientific approach to development and the necessity of improving the economic system by encouraging creativity.”

He added that the country still faces the challenge of balanced development among the different regions, particularly in rural areas. He promised that the party will continue implementing political reform and increasing transparency.

Crucially, Hu sounded the alarm on the question of corruption, which has been dogging the party for several years now. “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,” he declared.

It appears that Hu’s speech was an attempt to plot a course between two divergent perspectives in the party: a conservative trend, on one side, and those who are pushing for more openness and liberalization, on the other.

What is almost certain is that the leadership of the party will be passed on to the current deputy general secretary of the Communist Party, Xi Jinping, who is expected to take over from Hu as China’s president in March 2013.

The Syrian Question

In response to a question about how China’s differences with some Arab countries over Syria and Iran will affect relations between the two, a foreign ministry official responsible for the Middle East said, “China’s position may differ from some countries, but this has not – nor will it – affect trade with them.”

The official explained that one of China’s key guiding principles in international affairs is the rejection of foreign intervention in the spirit of the UN Charter, which promotes dialogue and peaceful methods of resolving disputes.

He pointed out that China imports more gas from Qatar than any other country, and confirmed his country’s commitment to improving relations with the emirate and all the Arab countries. In 2000, trade between China and all the Arab countries was just under $20 billion. Since then it has grown by leaps and bounds, having reached $270 billion by 2011.

The official raised the issue of China’s proposed initiative on resolving the crisis in Syria. “The Syrian people are suffering from a catastrophe, and war will not resolve the issue.” He stressed that the Chinese government supports UN Special Envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi’s efforts in this vein.

As for Iran, he said, “Our position is clear and firm – we are against sanctions. Sanctions do not solve the problem but only make it worse. The nuclear program issue should be resolved peacefully, and we are against the development of nuclear weapons in the region.”

The Communist Party’s General Secretary Hu Jintao had earlier addressed China’s outlook on international relations in his speech to the 18th party congress, stressing the need for “equality and mutual respect” among states.

His report to the party advocated improving ties and solidarity with developing countries, in addition to protecting their rights according to international law.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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