China welcomes private partnerships


Reuters

China's Communist Party opens a watershed congress on Friday expected to usher in a new generation of leaders and throw open its doors to private entrepreneurs once spat on as capitalist exploiters.

More than 2,000 delegates from every corner of China converged on the Great Hall of the People in a capital swathed in red flags and banners for the 16th Communist Party Congress during which party chief Jiang Zemin and other top leaders are due to retire.

Jiang was to open the congress with a policy speech that usually documents the achievements of the last five years and outlines policy for the next five, before stepping down next week in what could be the first orderly succession in Communist China.

But in a break from precedent, Jiang may also review his own record in office since he was plucked from obscurity to take over the party in 1989 after the bloody crackdown on student-led protests around Tiananmen Square, analysts say.

Police have thrown a tight security cordon around Beijing and detained a prominent democracy activist, while censors have threatened Chinese reporters with jail sentences for leaks about the highly secretive meeting.

Just before delegates arrived for the opening session, police detained two women who threw leaflets in the air outside the Great Hall of the People and grabbed the flyers from reporters before they could be read.

Moments earlier, they detained three women who tried to push their way to the entrance of the Great Hall in what appeared to be another protest.

The security highlights the sensitivity of the most sweeping leadership reshuffle since the purges that followed the Tiananmen crackdown.

Jiang's speech is unlikely to mention the expected personnel changes which have been kept under tight wraps as rumors swirl about an intense struggle between retiring leaders to install their proteges in the new leadership.

Jiang is widely expected to hand his party post to Vice President Hu Jintao, 59, but has secured promotion of several key allies so he can continue to pull the strings from "behind the curtain" after retirement.

He may also keep his post as chairman of the Central Military Commission, which commands the 2.5 million-strong People's Liberation Army, like his predecessor Deng Xiaoping.

JIANG RULE LAUDED

State media have trumpeted Jiang's achievements to create a "favorable atmosphere" for the congress.

"In the past 13 years, the reform and opening-up drive has achieved historic breakthroughs, our country's overall national strength has grown remarkably, the great cause of peaceful reunification of the motherland has made major advancement," said the People's Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece.

"The people's life has taken a historic leap from being adequately fed and dressed to being fairly well-off, and a brand new situation has emerged for the cause of building socialism with Chinese characteristics," it said in an editorial.

Jiang's speech is likely to focus on a plan to broaden the party's membership to private entrepreneurs, once vilified as capitalist exploiters, in a bid make it more relevant in an increasingly pluralistic and capitalist society, analysts say.

The seven-day congress is expected to change the party constitution to include Jiang's "Three Represents" political theory on modernising the party, Chinese sources say.

Jiang's theory says the party represents advanced productive forces, advanced culture and the vast majority of Chinese people, and analysts say it sanctions admitting private entrepreneurs.

SPEECH UNDER SCRUTINY

Jiang's speech will be filled with political rhetoric but delegates, diplomats and China watchers will scrutinize it for the slightest hint about the leadership change or a subtle shift in language which could indicate a major policy change.

In his address to the last congress in 1997, Jiang proposed overhauling the state sector through privatization, bankruptcies and stock listings as well as making Deng's market-oriented economic theory official doctrine.

He also unveiled a plan to cut the army by 500,000 people.

This year, he is likely to address the widening gap between the rich and the poor, trumpet a government crackdown on corruption and spell out China's foreign policy, analysts say.

Taiwan reporters plan to scour the report for a section on policy toward the wealthy democratic island, which Beijing insists must be reunited with the mainland.

The report will sketch the path ahead for wrenching economic reforms and limited political change within the party, as well as touching on the challenges posed by China's entry to the World Trade Organization last December, analysts say.

The congress will be the first since Beijing banned the Falun Gong spiritual movement as an "evil cult" in 1999 and the political report could contain a section on "spiritual civilization" -- Communist jargon for morality and ethics.