18th Party Congress

Hu Jintao sets target of doubling incomes by 2020

President disappoints those hoping for political reform, saying the Communist Party will never take the 'evil route of changing its colour'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 November, 2012, 12:25pm

The Communist Party aims to double average household incomes on the mainland by 2020, party chief Hu Jintao said yesterday at the opening of a pivotal party congress that will usher in a new generation of leaders.

He insisted the party's firm political control was the key to achieving that target.

In his swansong speech before he passes the post of party general secretary to Xi Jinping next week, at the end of the week-long congress, Hu set the tone for the country's development in the coming decade: embrace economic reform but watch out for any attempt to copy Western-style democracy.

In a push to cement his political legacy, Hu listed his "historic achievements", with his pet theory - the scientific concept of development, enshrined in the party constitution five years ago - topping the list.

Despite mounting criticism over the country's political stagnation and his obsession with maintaining the status quo, Hu appeared confident the party would continue to thrive as long as it continued to deliver high economic growth rates similar to the past two decades.

Such growth has become a source of legitimacy for the party, with leaders going back to the days of Deng Xiaoping's landmark reform programme in the late 1970s pledging to double the size of the economy every 10 years. In fact, gross domestic product has grown far faster, achieving an average annual increase of around 10 per cent for the past three decades.

But growing income inequality and other social injustices have fuelled public discontent, prompting the party for the first time to include per capita income in the economic growth target in an attempt to allow more people to share the benefits of the country's growth.

"On the basis of making China's development much more balanced, co-ordinated and sustainable, we should double its 2010 GDP and per capita income for both urban and rural residents [by 2020]," Hu said in the nationally televised speech.

The goals were part of an ambitious blueprint Hu laid out for the incoming leadership, to be headed by Vice-President Xi and Vice-Premier Li Keqiang . Xi will succeed Hu as president in March, with Li succeeding Wen Jiabao as premier.

"As long as we remain true to our ideals and are firm in our conviction, we will surely complete the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects when the party celebrates its centenary and turn China into a modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious when the People's Republic marks its centenary," Hu said.

Keenly aware of widespread public discontent at the stalling of political reform during his decade in power, Hu, 70, issued a stark warning to the more than 2,200 party delegates in the Great Hall of the People, saying that widespread official corruption, growing social unrest, an unbalanced economic structure, and a long list of other social and environmental challenges posed dire threats to one-party rule.

But he said the party would never take the "evil route of changing its colour".

"We have held high the great banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics and rejected both the old and rigid closed-door policy and any attempt to abandon socialism and take an erroneous path," he said.

Analysts said Hu's 90-minute address, laden with party clichés, was really a joint declaration of the party leadership under Hu's stewardship.

"The speech just underlined that this whole leadership succession is not and never was about meaningful policy choices," said Dr Kerry Brown, of the University of Sydney.

In a word of advice for the incoming leaders, Hu also attributed his success to his ultimate motto, bu zheteng, slang for "don't rock the boat" - borrowed from Deng.

Instead of talking about meaningful democratic reforms, he devoted much of his speech to repeating what he said at the last party congress five years ago, on intra-party democracy, calling it the lifeline of the party.

Hu vowed again to expand this at grass-roots level and promote transparency and public scrutiny. Analysts said it was simply a slogan, aimed at strengthening the party's grip on power.

Professor Liu Junning , a political scientist, said Hu's rejection of Western-style democracy meant that substantive political reform was virtually impossible. "We have seen a lost decade under Hu's rule, during which challenges in certain aspects have escalated into a full-blown crisis," Liu said. "For that, I'll give him negative marks."