Beijing: China on Thursday began the process of its once-in-a-decade leadership change, with a stern warning from outgoing President Hu Jintao that corruption in the ruling Communist Party could prove "fatal" to its 63-year-long grip over the country.
"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, who will be stepping down as President and General Secretary of the CPC, said in his keynote report to the Congress.
The week-long key meeting attended by 2,270 delegates chosen from all over country was kicked off here today at the Great Hall of the People amid unprecedented security to avert public protests to demonstrate simmering discontent over the ballooning wealth gap under the leadership of the Communist Party which swears by Marxian ideology.
Under Hu`s leadership in the past decade, China has emerged as the second largest economy. However, corruption has become the main issue dogging the ruling party and the country undermining the strength of significant growth rates that has improved the living standards 1.3 billion Chinese.
The party must maintain a tough position in cracking down on corruption at all times and conduct thorough investigations into major corruption cases, Hu said in a 90-minute address telecast live all over the country.
"All those who violate Party discipline and state laws, whoever they are and whatever power or official positions they have, must be brought to justice without mercy," he said.
"Leading officials at all levels, especially high-ranking officials, must readily observe the code of conduct on clean governance and report all important matters," Hu said.
While corruption has become endemic in China with a number of high ranking officials faced severe punishment, the country and the party shook by major scandals involving top leaders in the recent past. Disgraced leader Bo Xilai and former Railway Minister Liu Zhijun were sacked for serious charges of corruption.
Ahead of the Congress, the Party was rocked by an
investigative report by New York Times that Prime Minister Wen Jiabao`s family accumulate USD 2.7 billion wealth during his 10-year rule. The Party has instituted an inquiry reportedly at the request of Wen himself.
Earlier a Bloomberg news agency alleged similar wealth accumulation by family of Vice-President Xi Jinping, who is all set to take over from Hu both as President and head of the Party.
With hard-liner Bo Xilai on the way, Party insiders say a smooth succession plan. While Xi, 59 takes over as President, Vice Premier, Li Keqiang is to succeed Wen.
The rest of the leadership, including the seven or nine member Standing Committee, which virtually rules the country, 24 member Politburo and the 365 member Central Committee would be announced at the end of the Congress.
The names of the new leaders would be officially announced on November 14, the last day of the Congress and formally take over early next year.
The Congress was being held in the shadows of the Bo scandal as well as declining growth rate of the economy which slid to 7.4 per cent from nearly about 12 per cent three years ago.
Scorching rumours of factional differences ahead of the leadership changes during the run-up to the conference, several top leaders of the party including ex-President and General Secretary of the Party Jiang Zemin attended the meeting and lustily cheered Hu`s speech.
In his speech, Hu ruled out opening up China for western style democracy but at the same time stated that the party would continue to carry out reform of the political structure.
"However, we will never copy a Western political system," he said. "We must continue to make both active and prudent efforts to carry out the reform of the political structure, and make people`s democracy more extensive, fuller in scope and sounder in practice," he said.
"We should attach greater importance to improving the system of democracy and diversifying the forms of democracy to ensure that the people conduct democratic elections, decision-making, administration and oversight in accordance with the law," he said, stating it was part of Socialism with Chinese characteristics.