Hu Jintao driving home reform agenda

Beijing, October 9:

Four years after being named China’s Communist Party boss, president Hu Jintao is pushing hard to implement sweeping political reforms aimed at changing the nation’s economic growth model, analysts said.

The reforms will seek to change a system where government involvement in the economy has led to powerful monopolies, widespread environmental degradation, a glaring wealth gap between rich and poor, and rampant corruption, they said.

Hu’s agenda of ‘building a harmonious society’ is the main theme of the Communist Party’s chief political event of the year, a four-day long gathering of 500 cadres in Beijing that began yesterday. It is also expected to serve as the centerpiece of his drive for a second five-year term, which will be decided at the party’s next five-yearly congress in late 2007. “This programme is a major move by Hu’s leadership team to assert themselves for very deep reforms,” said Sidney Rittenberg Sr, a former translator of revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, who has lived in China for more than 40 years. “The Hu-Wen team are pushing for a big step forward in reform, but there is lots of resistance with many local officials striving to maintain the status quo.”

During 25 years of booming economic growth, local officials are well known to have enriched themselves through vast state control of land, energy, transport and telecommunications. This has often been at the expense of lower levels of society such as China’s massive population of farmers, which stood at just under 750 million last year, according to government statistics.

In an effort to delink the government from the economy, Hu has embarked on an anti-graft campaign aimed at removing officials, who have failed to follow his policies and refused to give up their economic powers, Rittenberg said. Rittenberg pointed to the firing this year of a Beijing vice-mayor and top officials in Tianjin city and Henan and Hubei provinces as evidence of Hu’s determination. The sackings have also highlighted Hu’s growing confidence in his political power after taking over from Jiang Zemin as Communist Party chief in 2002 and the nation’s president in 2003.

Observers expect that, with this increased political security, Hu will take even greater measures ahead of next year’s congress to deepen his power base and strengthen his hand in imposing his economic agenda. “Hu needs to have his own people on the politburo if his efforts to push forward the reform of the political system is going to be easier,” said Gua-n Anping, a Beijing lawyer who has advised the central government on legal reforms. “Wi-thout the support of the politburo, the hardliners will resist.”

‘Improve civil rights’

LISBON: China needs to improve civil liberties if it wants to maintain a high rate of economic growth, EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson said. “I believe that if China wants to have sustainable economic growth it must take steps to increase the freedoms and the creativity of its people,” he said. The former British cabinet minister called on China to do more to reduce barriers to the entry of overseas inves-tors and exporters to its market. “If it wants its partners to maintain their openness to China, it must adopt reciprocal measures.” — AFP