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Xi Urges Stronger Role in Challenges   10/18 06:10

   BEIJING (AP) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday urged a 
reinvigorated Communist Party to take a stronger role in society and economic 
development to better address the nation's "grim" challenges as he opened a 
twice-a-decade national congress.

   Speaking in the massive Great Hall of the People near Tiananmen Square, Xi 
laid out his vision of a ruling party that serves as the vanguard for 
everything from defending national security to providing moral guidance to 
ordinary Chinese.

   He struck a nationalistic line throughout his speech, calling for the party 
not only to safeguard China's sovereignty but also to revitalize Chinese 
culture, oppose "erroneous" ideology and promote religion that is "Chinese in 
orientation."

   "The great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation is no walk in the park or mere 
drum-beating and gong-clanging. The whole party must be prepared to make ever 
more difficult and harder efforts," Xi told hundreds of delegates, mostly men 
in dark suits who applauded regularly as they read copies of his prepared 
remarks. "To achieve great dreams there must be a great struggle."

   Hailing the start of a "new era," Xi outlined a vision in which the party 
would lead China on the road to becoming a "great modern socialist country" by 
midcentury.

   Xi wields undisputed power and is expected to get a second five-year term as 
party leader at the gathering. Analysts say he has consolidated his power by 
sidelining his competitors in other intra-party cliques, including those 
surrounding his immediate predecessor Hu Jintao and former leader Jiang Zemin.

   Observers will be watching for signs of whether Xi, 64, may be looking to 
appoint a successor. While the nation's presidency is limited to two five-year 
terms, the tenure of the party's leader is bound only by tradition.

   Xi has already distinguished himself from previous leaders, and is now 
"leading China into territory in which China is very close to achieving modest 
prosperity," said Dali Yang, an expert on Chinese politics at the University of 
Chicago.

   According to Xi's vision, "China would not only be a modern, socialist 
country but one that stands tall among the nations," Yang said. "This message 
he delivered with vigor."

   The Communist Party meetings will largely be behind closed doors and are 
accompanied by extraordinary security measures, such as restrictions on knife 
sales and greater monitoring of dissidents. But the congress will see powerful 
players emerge in new roles and is a chance for Xi to publicly lay out his 
political and economic vision over the next five years.

   In emphasizing the party's supremacy over all aspects of Chinese society, Xi 
is "making a big pitch for the importance of party leadership and what he 
claims only the party can achieve," said Willy Lam, a China expert at the 
Chinese University of Hong Kong. "It's an appeal to ordinary Chinese to abide 
by the party's instructions, in particular that of the top leadership --- that 
is, himself."

   Xi, in his three-and-a-half-hour address, said China's "prospects are bright 
but the challenges are grim," a rare acknowledgement of severe economic issues. 
He added that the party would have to take big risks and overcome "major 
resistance."

   Other Chinese leaders have regularly warned since the 2008 financial crisis 
that China's economic growth faces "downward pressure" due to weak global 
demand that threatens export industries in the world's second-largest economy. 
But Xi's comments were unusual in a keynote speech meant to highlight the 
party's confidence and long-range vision.

   Among the grave issues Xi said were insufficiently addressed are a widening 
income gap and problems in employment, education, medical care and other areas.

   He pledged to make high school universally available and promised to extend 
land-use contracts for farmers for another 30 years after expiration.

   Xi hailed China's island-building efforts in the disputed South China Sea as 
well as his signature foreign-policy initiative, the "One Belt, One Road" 
infrastructure investment project aimed at improving connections between China, 
Europe and Africa.

   He also praised the party's tightened grip over domestic security, saying 
that social stability had been maintained and national security strengthened.

   To achieve a "moderately well-off society" by 2021 --- the 100th anniversary 
of the party's founding --- and even greater national power and prosperity by 
2049 --- the centenary of the founding of the Communist state --- China needs 
continued economic growth and the lifting of millions out of poverty. The 
country is also rapidly expanding its military and political power, including 
its growing ability to dominate the Asia-Pacific region.

   Xi affirmed economic plans that call for developing state-owned companies 
that dominate industries including finance, energy and telecoms while also 
giving the market the "decisive role" in allocating resources.

   The party declared for the first time in 2013 that it would give market 
forces the "decisive role," a step business groups welcomed as a commitment to 
freer markets. But the same declaration also said the party would play a bigger 
role in managing state industry, which could blunt the impact of competitive 
forces.

   Xi emphasized Beijing "must develop the public sector," a goal that reform 
advocates complain wastes public money and further slows economic growth.

   Xi also confirmed official pledges to make the banking industry more 
market-oriented and to shrink bloated state-owned steel and coal industries.

   Excess industrial capacity has strained trade relations with Washington and 
Europe, which complain that a flood of low-cost Chinese exports is depressing 
global prices for steel, aluminum and other goods and threatening jobs abroad.

   Xi pledged that the party would have "zero tolerance" for corruption and 
exhorted members to resist "pleasure seeking, inaction, sloth and problem 
avoidance."

   The most tangible results of the congress will likely be personnel 
appointments.

   China is run by the party's Politburo Standing Committee, currently a 
seven-member body led by Xi, with Premier Li Keqiang his No. 2. While Xi and Li 
are expected to stay, the fates of others are determined by loose precedents 
governing retirement age. Four are expected to depart, while the status of 
party discipline boss and close Xi ally Wang Qishan appears uncertain.

   In a secret process, the congress delegates will select a roughly 200-member 
central committee, along with more than 150 alternates, from a pool of around 
400 candidates. The committee will then pick a 25-member politburo and the 
elite Politburo Standing Committee, led by the general secretary. The makeup of 
the top body will only be known at the close of the meeting when its members 
reveal themselves on stage in front of journalists, according to past practice.


(KA)

 
 
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