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Communist party elite gather amid mounting calls for reform

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-10-15

China’s leaders are meeting behind closed doors in Beijing on Friday as the ruling Communist Party prepares to discuss economic planning, succession plans and the scope of any political reforms.

AFP - China's Communist Party opened its annual meeting on Friday to discuss the nation's next five-year plan amid speculation political reform could be on the agenda of the secretive gathering.

The plenum of the roughly 300-member Central Committee in Beijing, which will run until Monday, is typically cloaked in great secrecy with details released only after it ends. Even its location is not publicly announced.

Xinhua news agency said the meeting, expected to be attended by President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao, and other top leaders, opened "to discuss proposals for the nation's next five-year development plan" from 2011 to 2015.

However, speculation has mounted that political reform could be a hot topic after Wen -- widely viewed as more liberal-minded than Hu, who is party chairman -- issued an unusually strong call for political reform.

The reform debate intensified after jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo last week became China's first Nobel Peace Prize winner, infuriating Beijing.

Analysts said the jockeying does not mean leaders will debate anything close to Western democracy, but is a sign of displeasure with what is perceived as a lack of democracy within a party seen as dominated by Hu.

Hu came to power in 2003 amid hopes that he might lead Chinese politics in a more liberal direction but those hopes have since evaporated, said Willy Lam, China politics analyst at Chinese University of Hong Kong.

"Hu Jintao has a lot of power and he will not want to make any fast moves (on intra-party reform). The plenum might end with some superficial promises on the issue but nothing more," he said.

Some forces also are unhappy with an economic structure seen as increasingly in thrall to powerful state-linked industries, and as suppressing competition and leading to widespread inequality, analysts say.

Wen said this month in a CNN interview that was blacked out in China that calls for "democracy and freedom will become irresistible", echoing remarks he made in an August speech.

On Friday, more than 100 Chinese scholars, activists and lawyers signed a letter calling for democracy, and the release of Liu along with all other political prisoners.

Earlier, 23 former top communist officials and media leaders issued their own bluntly worded open letter to the government calling for the protection of constitutionally-enshrined freedom of expression.

The letter, posted on the Internet over the past week, warned the party could "die a natural death" if it did not reform.

The five-year plan is expected to contain few surprises by enshrining an ongoing push to rely more on domestic demand and less on export markets and to broaden the social safety net to prevent instability in the poor underclass.

Analysts also will be watching for signs that Vice President Xi Jinping and Vice Premier Li Keqiang -- the presumed 2013 successors to Hu and Wen, respectively -- have moved closed to power.

Date created : 2010-10-15

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