The Chinese Communist Party pledged Tuesday to pursue market reforms but also to focus on rural poverty and social benefits for those left behind by the economic boom of the past 25 years.
Senior party leaders, in a communique issued after a four-day Central Committee meeting, said China was at a critical juncture in its economic liberalization. This stage of development, they added, will require careful management, saying the key is to strengthen the ability of the Communist Party to lead China's 1.3 billion people.
The communique, read on government television and relayed by the official New China News Agency, did not directly address violent protests taking place with increasing frequency across the country. The unrest has become a major concern for President Hu Jintao's government. Analysts say the protests reflect broad dissatisfaction, particularly among farmers, with income disparities created by the move to a market economy and by the deepening partnership between party officials and private businessmen.
As a result of these tensions, a number of party theoreticians have urged Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao to rein in the liberalization and do more to improve the lives of laid-off workers, peasants and others who have not shared in the country's increasing wealth. Although there was no indication of slowing market reforms, the communique said party leaders were committed to narrowing the income gap and helping farmers who lose their land because of development.
"We have to solve the contradictions of the people," it said. "We have to face and solve the most crucial, direct and realistic problems of the people."
This suggested that Hu will take a cautious approach, making slight shifts in emphasis, while hewing to the course set by the late Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s and followed with zeal by former president Jiang Zemin. Such a tack would fit with Hu's reputation as a careful leader adept at navigating the Communist Party bureaucracy but not inclined to make bold changes.
The emphasis on improving the party's ability to manage the country also reflected Hu's long-standing determination to seek a solution to China's problems within the party. The government has maintained a ban on any countervailing power such as an independent court system.
"We are now in a most important stage of reform," the communique said in announcing approval of a new economic development plan for 2006 through 2010. "The most important thing is to strengthen the ability and leadership of the party."
The communique did not note any senior personnel changes that may have been decided. The rise and fall of high-level party officials often has been treated as secret and has seeped out in third-hand reports well after the fact. But observers were watching closely to see whether Hu would seek to name his own followers to senior posts in place of officials left behind by Jiang, who stepped down as party secretary in 2002 and as head of the party's Central Military Commission last year.