The Communist Party's fourth most powerful figure, the chief of the government's advisory body, has called on other advisers to play a bigger role in religious and ethnic affairs in order to help resolve conflicts during a politically sensitive year.
Jia Qinglin, chairman of Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, said maintaining stability was a priority for the CPPCC.
He also pledged to increase contact with citizens, especially the young, in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.
CPPCC members should 'make sure all the work of welcoming the 18th CPC National Congress is done well', to ensure a smooth leadership handover, he added.
'This year, we will improve [communication] with different sectors and focus on areas in which the public is confused... and conflicts are easily triggered, to make known government policies, dispel doubts, calm emotions and resolve conflicts,' Jia said in a speech to kick-start the annual gathering at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing yesterday.
CPPCC delegates who belong to ethnic minority or religious groups should play a bigger role to maintain national unity and peaceful relations with religions, he said.
Jia highlighted the advisory body's work in visiting Xinjiang, drafting policies to increase support for the development of the autonomous western region, and proposing better welfare for religious groups.
Beijing has already promised better social welfare for Tibetan monks, a number of whom have self-immolated in protest at Beijing's rule.
The CPPCC meets yearly, in parallel with the annual session of the National People's Congress, the mainland's legislature, which begins meeting tomorrow.
President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and all the other party leaders attended yesterday's meeting.
With the party set to undergo its once-in-a-decade power transition this autumn, the leadership is increasingly nervous about any potential instability, particularly over religious and ethnic issues, following protests and violent riots in the ethnic-minority-dominated regions of Tibet in the southwest and Xinjiang in the northwest.
Jia also urged the advisory body to reach out to the youth of Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.
'[We should] expand contacts with social organisations in Hong Kong and Macau and their representatives, taking active care of the healthy growth of the young and teenaged,' Jia said.
He called for more interaction with social organisations, the social elite and the general population in Taiwan in order 'to get them to identify more closely with China'.
The mainland would pursue 'cultural exchanges with the goal of ... getting the people of Taiwan, especially the young, to identify more closely with the Chinese nation and culture'.
On the economy, Jia vowed to stimulate 'steady and robust' development. He highlighted the need to increase domestic consumption and ensure price stability. He also called for more support to develop small and medium-sized companies and to guarantee food supplies.