China Entering New Economic era.(Main News)
Byline: JEREMY PAGE
BEIJING, China (Reuters) - Chinas President Jiang Zemin opened the Communist Party to the new capitalist rich to preserve its grip on power on Friday as he began a watershed congress due to usher in a new generation of leaders.
Before a backdrop of a giant hammer and sickle in the Great Hall of the People, Jiang ruled out Western-style multi-party democracy and said the party would not abandon the peasants and workers who brought it to power in 1949.
But he told the 2,114 delegates the party has to adapt to wrenching economic changes that have created a demanding new middle class, put tens of millions out of work, and opened a yawning income gap between cities and the countryside.
"We must move forward or we will fall behind," said Jiang, wearing a dark suit and red polka dot tie and flanked by China's top leaders, including the man expected to take over as party chief next week, Vice President Hu Jintao.
"Keeping pace with with the times" and "innovation" were the buzz words of the speech outlining policy for the next five years. "Whether we can persist in doing this bears on the future and destiny of the party and state," he said.
Outside, red flags and slogan-bearing banners were strewn around streets lined with glitzy office blocks and shopping malls highlighting the tensions between China's rigid political system and its breakneck capitalist-style economic development.
"It was quite a strong platform for carrying on economic reforms and continuing to broaden the support base and appeal of the party," one Western diplomat said of the speech.
"It was all framed at the start by the continuing of party rule and at the end by the importance of stability."
The new leadership has been hammered out in extreme secrecy, underlining the sensitivity of what is supposed to be the first orderly transition of power in Communist China.
Hu is expected to take over the nation's top job and heads the "fourth generation" of Chinese leaders after Chairman Mao Zedong, paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, and Jiang.
But Jiang, 76, will pull the strings from behind the curtain by installing allies in key posts and having his theory on party reform written into its charter alongside Mao Zedong Thought and Deng Xiaoping Theory, Chinese sources say.
Jiang gave no clues to who will be the chosen ones. They will only be known for sure when they emerge from behind a screen in the Great Hall a day after the congress ends on Nov. 14.
But in a break from precedent, he reviewed the 13 years since he took power after the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations ended in bloodshed and a leadership purge, rather than the usual five since the last congress.
"Jiang summing up 13 years of achievements shows he will step down from the party's number one position," said Wu Guoguang, an expert on Chinese politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and a former editor of the People's Daily, the party paper.
Jiang, rumoured earlier this year to be reluctant to step down, also did not read the entire speech, prompting speculation about his health among Chinese reporters.
"Standing there for three hours delivering a speech is taxing even for the young," said one.
Jiang urged the party to follow his "Three Represents" theory - subject of a Mao-style, media campaign - which says the party represents advanced productive forces, advanced culture and the interests of the vast majority of the Chinese people. …