Beijing Chinese President Hu Jintao opened a major Communist Party congress today by promising modest reforms to make government institutions more responsive while strengthening one-party rule.
The congress is a crucial test of strength for Hu after five years in power, especially his ability to maneuver allies - possibly including a designated successor - into key positions and assert the primacy of his vision of more balanced development.
"In deepening political restructuring, we must keep to the correct political orientation," Hu said in a speech opening the party's 17th congress.
Hu, who is expected to remain in power for another five years, said government advisory bodies, which include nonparty members, should be given a greater role in decision making. He also supported holding more public hearings before laws and regulations are formulated.
He said the party had to pay more attention to taking a scientific outlook on development, a catchphrase for redistributing growth more equally and making more efficient use of energy.
"A relatively comfortable standard of living has been achieved for the people as a whole but the trend of a growing gap in incomes distribution has not been thoroughly reversed," Hu said. "There are still a considerable number of impoverished and low-income people in both urban and rural areas, and it has become more difficult to accommodate the interests of all sides."
On Sunday, congress spokesman Li Dongsheng said senior party members would put forth a blueprint for reforming political institutions, but the steps aimed to strengthen one-party rule and will not copy Western democratic models.
Li told reporters the party has studied and drawn from other country's political systems, along with its own experiences. "But, we will never copy the Western model of a political system," he added.
Li gave few specifics and declined to answer questions about expected retirements and promotions in the party's ruling Politburo, highlighting the secretive party's extreme sensitivity over personnel issues.
He said reforms would also aim to strengthen the legal system and decision-making, increase the government's responsiveness and "enhance supervision and restraint over the exercise of power." He was referring to Communist Party control over individual leaders, not an attempt to limit the party's unrivaled hold on power.