China’s outgoing leader has warned corruption could destroy the Communist Party but stepped up plans to double the size of the economy and build a powerful maritime force. President Hu Jintao unveiled an ambitious target to double per-capita incomes and implied the economy would achieve annual growth of about 7% over the next eight years.
And he declared Beijing should “resolutely safeguard” territorial interests and “build China into a maritime power”.
However, in the sharpest language of his report at the 18th National Party Congress of the Communist Party of China, he said one-party rule in China could not be sustained unless corruption was tackled.
“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,” he told the congress.
Mr Hu said China should continue with “prudent efforts” of political reform but stressed it “will never follow a Western political system”.
And following revelations about the family wealth of outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao and incoming president Xi Jinping, he said leading officials should “exercise strict self-discipline and strengthen education and supervision over their families and their staff; and they should never seek any privilege”.
Indicating tensions over priorities, before the speech state media agency Xinhua suggested political reform was as important as economic growth, saying: “Just having economic growth is far from enough. The reform of the political system with greater democracy is also imperative.”
Mr Hu’s report to 2.325 delegates, which lasted more than 90 minutes, mostly focused on economic reform. He said the country should be more “proactive” in opening up its economy and Chinese companies should expand overseas at a faster pace.
In a strongly positive sign for commodity exporting countries, the President said the government would continue to promote urbanisation and the development of the western provinces.
“We should give high priority to large-scale development of the western region,” he said, to applause.
But Mr Hu also said such investments should be increased at a “proper rate”, in another sign the government will not embark on more large-scale stimulus to boost growth.
China has been attempting to push its rapid development away from coastal provinces towards western areas of the country and Mr Hu’s focus on this approach suggests China’s leaders will keep pushing ahead with infrastructure projects in the west to raise living standards.
He also said China should take “steady steps to make interest rates and the RMB exchange rate more market based, and promote the RMB convertibility under capital accounts in due course”.
China’s Central Bank governor, Zhou Xiaochuan, said on the sidelines of the congress that current policy settings would be maintained, suggesting the bank would not lower interest rates or adjust the amount of capital banks are forced to hold.
“After a series of policy adjustments, although there was a slowdown in the second quarter, the economy has been stabilised in the third quarter and the trend is positive.”
China will unveil its fifth generation of Communist leaders at the conclusion of the congress next Wednesday, the main focus on electing the new Politburo Standing Committee.