18th Party Congress

Hu Jintao's speech 'puts successors in straitjacket'

Analysts say Hu's address set limits for change and offered few new ideas for political progress

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 November, 2012, 4:43am

Party Secretary Hu Jintao's failure to provide a departing vision for political reform has put severe limitations on his successors, who must cope with any crises that may arise from political stagnation, analysts say.

"We uphold the great banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics; we reject both the old and rigid closed-door path and the evil path of shifting banners," Hu said on Thursday while delivering his work report.

"We must never copy the Western political system," Hu vowed, deflating liberal camp hopes the party may use the congress to take steps towards political openness, such as constitutional democracy and a separation of state and party powers.

Analysts said Hu's speech set boundaries for the changes that can be undertaken by his successors and offered few new ideas for political progress.

"He has set the tone that any future reforms must be made within this framework and cannot go beyond it," said Yuen Kee-wang, a Hong Kong-based political commentator. "That is, we won't copy the West and must stay on the Chinese path."

Chen Ziming , an independent analyst in Beijing, said Hu's rhetoric provided "negative equities" to his successor as party leader, Vice-President Xi Jinping . Chen said he expected Xi had his own agenda for change, but said Hu's report had put pressure on the next generation of leaders.

"If this report becomes the guiding principles for the next five to 10 years and Xi follows Hu, then they're effectively handing over a time-bomb to the future China," Chen said.

The report essentially ruled out the sweeping political reform that many experts say is necessary to tackle mounting social conflicts and rampant corruption, as well as political and social openness needed to make the economy more sustainable.

Scholars say the political elites saw a sweeping overhaul as dangerous because their vested interests are so entrenched in a corrupt regime.

"They are feeling the stone and not crossing the river," Chen said, putting a twist on the words of late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping who described China's early experiments with economic reform as "crossing the river by feeling the stones".

"And now the stone is the huge vested interests … and the elites only feel comfortable if they touch the stone and do not move," he said.

"But the river is not a safe place if a flood comes. Then, everything will fall apart."

Liberal party elders and scholars have warned the party's survival is at stake if no reforms are made because the level of anger among citizens over inequality, corruption and abuse of power is reaching a dangerous level.

"Even if it is just for the sake of preserving the party, they should carry out reform," Chen said.

Zhang Lifan , a historian formerly with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Hu was trying to avoid offending any factions, noting that conservative party elder Jiang Zemin was still a powerful force. Doing so may help ensure Hu's protégés get key decision-making positions on the Politburo Standing Committee, he said.

"We still have to see what steps they will take," Zhang said, "If the party doesn't get rid of Mao's influence, it will persist with its one-party rule and then there will be no real reforms."