China sets date for Communist Party to pick new leadership

Monday, August 26, 2002

BEIJING -- China set the date Sunday for its Communist Party national congress, a watershed event expected to position a new generation of leaders for the world's most populous nation as it undergoes wrenching economic and social change.

Sunday's announcement of the long-awaited 16th National Party Congress comes after months of speculation about possible dates and rumors of feuding over succession.

The party congress, now set for Nov. 8., is expected to see the first steps in the passing of power from president and party secretary Jiang Zemin to China's vice president, Hu Jintao.

China's new leadership will face economic uncertainty, social dislocation and the task of mapping out diplomatic space for China in a world dominated by the United States.

The state-run Xinhua News Agency, announcing the date, said the congress -- the first in five years -- was "extremely important."

Bargaining for succession

The gathering will elect a new Central Committee for the party as well as members of an influential body for punishing corruption and other ills, Xinhua said. Most of the top members of the Central Committee are expected to step down and be replaced by younger men.

The Communist Party's Political Bureau suggested the Nov. 8 date, which must still be approved by the governing Central Committee. But it was unlikely the date would change, since such important decisions typically are set by consensus after long private discussions. Such congresses can run anywhere from a few days to two weeks or longer.

Preparations for the congress have reportedly been complicated by last minute bargaining over the succession -- with many seeing Jiang as trying to maintain his influence even after he hands over power.

The 76-year-old Jiang is expected to hand over to Hu, 59, the post of party secretary-general. Next spring at the annual meeting of China's parliament, he is expected to stand down from the presidency, which will then go to Hu.

Jiang's theory

But before that happens, November's party congress appeared ready to cement Jiang's leagacy.

Xinhua said the congress will sum up work done over the last five years, and "comprehensively carry out the important thoughts of 'Three Represents"' -- the political theory of party modernization that Jiang is believed to want written into the party's constitution.

The theory lays down three messages: the Communist Party has to keep up with modern China, embrace the new economic and professional elite -- and even offer membership to the very entrepreneurs that it once reviled.

Giving it the party stamp would put Jiang on an ideological par with former leader Deng Xiaoping and Mao Zedong, the founder of communist China.

The Nov. 8 date means Jiang still will be president, party secretary general and head of key party and state military commissions when he visits North America in late October.

He is due to visit President Bush at his Crawford, Texas, ranch Oct. 25 and attend a meeting of Asian-Pacific leaders in Mexico before returning for the congress.

The new generation of leaders will likely need years to build their political muscle because assertiveness traditionally is frowned upon in the rigidly hierarchical communist system.

Meanwhile, the issues grow more demanding:

-- China must provide for growing legions of urban workers laid off from failed state industries while cooling anger among farmers with stagnating incomes.

-- There is strong public resentment over rampant official corruption and the increasingly glaring gap between rich and poor. A lesser challenge comes from the desire among urban, educated Chinese and younger officials for more responsive, transparent government.

-- The military is seen as increasingly assertive. The generals especially want China to stand up to the United States, which is viewed both as China's main rival and its most important economic partner.

The generals also are pushing for a harder line on Taiwan, the island republic claimed by China as its own territory, saying military force may be necessary to assert Beijing's control.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: