By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
BEIJING, June 26 -- President Hu Jintao, in a solemn speech laying out his views, said that China's swift economic reforms must continue but that the Communist Party should retain its monopoly on political power for the foreseeable future.
Hu's declaration, made Monday at the Central Party School and splashed in the official press Tuesday, constituted a broad leadership platform for the 17th Party Congress scheduled in the fall, when Hu is expected to cement his leadership by placing trusted loyalists in key government and party positions.
In anticipation of the congress, debate has percolated behind closed doors in the 70 million-member Communist Party. Some old-line members, particularly academics, have advocated slowing the move toward a market economy, arguing that China has betrayed its socialist heritage. Other members, including academics but also former officials, have argued that the time has come for a political opening to match the economic reforms and that democracy is the only response to the social tensions increasingly visible among China's 1.4 billion people.
Hu, true to his reputation as a cautious bureaucratic operator, rejected the suggestions of change from both ends of the spectrum. With China's senior leadership at his side to add authority to his words, he vowed instead to hew to the down-the-middle course he has set since taking over as party leader from Jiang Zemin in 2002 and as president the following year. In U.S. political terms, he called for "staying the course."
"Reform and opening to the outside world are a requirement to liberate and develop socialist productive strength and create systems and mechanisms with vigor," he declared, using party jargon for the economic reforms set in motion by Deng Xiaoping. "The facts have strongly justified that the policy of reform and opening to the outside world is a path that must be taken in developing socialism with Chinese characteristics and revitalizing China."
But he also made clear that now is not the time for China to embrace democracy as commonly understood in the West. This has been a repeated theme of Hu's leadership. He and Premier Wen Jiabao have asserted that China eventually will evolve a form of "socialist democracy" more in tune with its national characteristics.
"We have to insist on the party's leadership, the principle of people in charge and rule by law so as to push self-development and improvement of the socialist political system," Hu said.
To emphasize the importance the party leadership intended to give Hu's declaration, People's Daily, the party newspaper, filled its front page with the speech, topped by a photograph showing Hu on a dais with other members of the decision-making party Politburo.