Ruling Communist Party members opened the 18th Communist Party Congress at the Great Hall of the People to usher in a new group of younger leaders faced with challenging task of righting the flagging economy.
President Hu Jintao called for an end to “institutional corruption” in order for government to gain the “trust of the Chinese people.” But it wasn’t interesting enough for one delegate caught on camera letting out a wide yawn. Although it is only day one of seven, this delegate was already struggling to stay awake.
He was caught on camera letting out a wide yawn as outgoing President Hu Jintao gave a mammoth 100-minute speech to open the event, which marks the country’s “once-a-decade” leadership transition.
Perhaps he’d be advised to order a refill of the tee in front of him if he’s to make it through the next six days. It wasn’t as though his departing leader’s speech was too dull, as Hu warned that “rampant corruption” in the Communist Party could topple the regime.
He said “If we fail to handle this issue well, it could prove fatal to the party, and even cause the collapse of the party and the fall of the state” and added senior officials should strengthen “supervision over their families and their staff, and they should never seek any privilege”.
His warning comes after revelations that the close family of outgoing premier Wen Jiabao was exposed as having amassed around US$3.18 billion in “hidden riches”.
And on the eve of the congress, high-ranking politician Bo Xilai was formally expelled from the party, following the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood by Bo’s wife Gu Kailai last November. The Bo scandal has overshadowed the handover of power and exposed “infighting” and “horse trading” among hard-liners and reformers.
At the congress, President Hu promised political reform – but he ruled out copying “Western-style” democracy. He also said army generals must transform “China into a maritime power” to ensure it could “win a local war in the information age” to defend its territorial claims in the resource-rich seas off its coast.
Hu’s successor Xi Jinping will be unveiled next week and will officially take over in March. The all-male Standing Committee, consisting of seven to nine politicians, who will also be revealed. Chosen behind closed doors, the committee is the apex of power in the country.
Heavy security has surrounded the party congress which is in effect a rubber-stamp process and a show of unity and power. Scores of dissidents have been hauled away by security agents or placed under house arrest.
Delegates filed into Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, bedecked with red banners, and the congress was declared open after the national anthem played.
The 2,268 delegates are drawn from the 82million-member party where the real deal-making is done by a few dozen power-brokers behind the scenes, even as China is ever more connected to the world through trade and the Internet.
In a speech aimed at outlining the successes of the past five years and challenges for the future, Hu said: “We are faced with unprecedented opportunities for developments as well as risks. The party must keep in mind the trust of the people. The fight against corruption remains a serious challenge for us.”
Coming so soon after President Barack Obama’s re-election in the U.S., the congress has drawn unfavorable comparisons from politically minded Chinese who have bemoaned how little direct influence they have in choosing their leaders.