Skip to main content

China's Hu Jintao warns party of enemy within

By Stan Grant, CNN
updated 5:46 AM EST, Fri November 9, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Outgoing President Hu Jintao warned against corruption in China
  • He was speaking at the start of the 18th Communist Party Congress
  • China has been beset by political scandals, corruption claims and slowing economy
  • But critics argue Hu himself is to blame for many of China's problems

Beijing (CNN) -- President Hu Jintao has said what so many others have been thinking: the Chinese Communist Party is under threat.

In front of more than 2,000 delegates at the opening of the 18th Communist Party Congress in Beijing, Hu made plain there is a cancer at the heart of the system and it is called corruption.

"Combating corruption and promoting political integrity is a major political issue. If we fail to handle it, it could prove fatal to the party and even cause the collapse of the party and the fall of the state," he said.

Read: Hu warns of corruption threat

It would be tempting to dismiss this as empty rhetoric, an attempt to placate an increasingly anxious and angry population.

But this isn't just about words. Chinese politics has been battered this year; a year of scandal, embarrassing revelations about the riches of party leaders, a slowing economy and a perilously widening wealth gap.

China's top economic challenge
Who is Xi Jinping?
The changing face of China
China: One party, two factions

With one former leader, Bo Xilai, purged from the party and awaiting trial, Hu was putting others on notice.

"All those who violate party discipline and state laws, whoever they are and whatever power or official positions they have, must be brought to justice without mercy," he warned.

This is the last time Hu will address the Congress as party chief. Xi Jinping is preparing to be appointed General Secretary at the end of the meeting next week, and next year will be installed as state president.

Read: Hu's end of term report card

Hu ends his ten years at the helm of a country that has risen to be the second biggest economy in the world -- closing fast on the United States. Yet, the nation is far from Hu's much vaunted "harmonious society."

The economy is overdue for reform, the old model of high investment, mass exports and cheap labor is looking tapped out. The party is trying to shift gears to be more domestic consumption-orientated, but economists say that is going to require significant investment in the social safety net to turn a nation of nervous savers into spenders.

Read: New leaders face China's wealth divide

Social unrest is on the rise with people, especially in rural areas, protesting against everything from environmental pollution to the rule of law and land seizures.

Ethnic groups continue to complain of victimization. Just this week there have been more reports of Tibetans setting themselves alight as part of a campaign for political and religious freedom. Human rights groups say dissidents -- particularly lawyers, writers and artists -- are languishing in prison or under house arrest.

Some China watchers say Hu's warnings about the fall of the party are meaningless, rather it his leadership that should be blamed.

"These are only empty words which sound good. In these ten years, China is nothing close to harmonious but the conflicts and contradictions have become worse. In fact, it is reaching a crisis moment," said Zhang Min, from China's Renmin University.

It will fall to Xi to save the party from itself. But this is a man who remains a mystery to many China watchers, though someone who has risen through the ranks being careful to keep his views to himself.

Read: China's mystery man, Xi Jinping

On a trip to Mexico in 2009, he lifted the veil just a little. Speaking to Chinese workers, he revealed a leader who may be more inclined to look for blame outside China than to criticize his own.

"There are some bored foreigners with full stomachs who have nothing better to do than point fingers at China," he said at the time.

As Hu ponders the party's demise, historian Zhang Lifun says Xi above all else will be dedicated to its survival. He's a son of the party, labeled as a "princeling" because his father was a revolutionary hero.

"He is part of a consensus to keep the Communist party as the only ruling party. Any so-called liberty must only be on the condition of the survival of a one-party dictatorship," he said.

Xi's very future depends on it.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:51 AM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
David McKenzie meets some American teenagers who are spending a year in China to be fully immersed in the culture.
updated 9:59 PM EST, Sun December 21, 2014
Chinese students show a handmade red ribbon one day ahead of the the World AIDS Day, at a school in Hanshan, east China's Anhui province on November 30, 2009.
The Chinese government pledges to protect a boy with HIV, who was shunned by his entire village in Sichuan, state media reported.
updated 6:44 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
A Chinese couple allegedly threw hot water on a flight attendant and threatened to blow up the plane.
updated 12:03 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
China's 1.3 billion citizens may soon find it much harder to belt out their national anthem at will.
updated 7:21 PM EST, Tue December 9, 2014
Los Angeles in the last century went through its own smog crisis. The city's mayor says LA's experience delivers valuable lessons for Beijing.
updated 12:42 AM EST, Sat December 6, 2014
At the height of his power, security chief Zhou Yongkang controlled China's police, spy agencies and courts. Now, he's under arrest.
updated 3:26 AM EST, Fri December 5, 2014
China says it will end organ transplants from executed prisoners but tradition means that donors are unlikely to make up the shortfall.
updated 1:48 AM EST, Fri December 5, 2014
China's skylines could look a lot more uniform in the years to come, if a statement by a top Beijing official is to believed.
updated 3:55 AM EST, Wed December 3, 2014
Despite a high-profile anti-corruption drive, China's position on an international corruption index has deteriorated in the past year.
updated 7:01 AM EST, Wed November 26, 2014
A daring cross-border raid by one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's associates has -- so far -- yet to sour Sino-Russian relations.
updated 7:51 PM EST, Sun November 23, 2014
A 24-hour bookstore in Taipei is a popular hangout for both hipsters and bookworms.
updated 8:53 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
China is building an island in the South China Sea that could accommodate an airstrip, according to IHS Jane's Defence Weekly.
updated 5:57 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
North Korean refugees and defectors face a daunting journey to reach asylum in South Korea, with gangs of smugglers the only option.
updated 6:19 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
China and "probably one or two other" countries have the capacity to shut down the nation's power grid and other critical infrastructure.
ADVERTISEMENT