The Chinese Communist Party opened its 16th Congress in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing Friday, and Jiang Zemin delivered perhaps his last speech as party chief. It was a 68-pager, according to the BBC, and in it he called for the party to admit “advanced elements of other social strata who accept the party’s programme and constitution,” i.e., capitalists, or, as the South China Morning Post puts it, “private entrepreneurs once vilified as capitalist exploiters.”
Several papers say the Congress, which is held every five years, is especially important because Jiang, who’s 76, will be stepping down as general secretary. Most expect he’ll be replaced by his vice president, Hu Jintao. The Standard—”Greater China’s Business Newspaper,” published in Hong Kong—says it “will be billed as the first orderly succession in party history,” dating back to 1921. “If all goes as foreseen, Jiang will become the first leader to hand over power willingly while still in good health.”
Other sources are less optimistic. The New York Times says that Jiang “will exert continued influence and that a genuine transfer of power will be gradual or even bumpy.” Jiang is likely to remain chief of the military and he has handpicked Jintao and other prominent replacements.
A Japan Times editorial praises the low-level political reforms that have been accomplished but remains skeptical of the Jiang regime. “China, of course, remains a one-party communist state, but direct elections in rural areas, for example, indicate that the CCP is moving toward openness at local levels. By contrast, its central hierarchy in Beijing remains wrapped largely in secrecy, contributing to a persistent sense of suspicion in much of the international community.”
The editorial in the Standard concurs. “Political reform could begin by revamping the party congress and introducing internal party democracy. The congress should end the practice that sees delegates from throughout the country travel to Beijing to only rubber-stamp decisions made in secret by a handful of top leaders.”
London’s Guardian reports that protesters at the Congress attempted to scatter leaflets near the Great Hall of the People. But “police swooped in and cleared the papers before anyone could see what they said.”