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China Prepares for Landmark Communist Party Meeting - 2002-11-07

China is making final preparations for a landmark Communist Party meeting that begins Friday in Beijing. The Party Congress is expected to usher in a new generation of leadership and open the party to private business people. At the Congress, China's President Jiang Zemin is expected to turn over his main job as Communist Party General Secretary to Vice President Hu Jintao. He is to pass other responsibilities to Mr. Hu in a few months.

President Jiang hopes to use the Party Congress make a major change in the Communist Party's basic rules by allowing private business people to join.

President Jiang has been appearing on state television promoting his idea. His supporters hope the move will keep the Communist Party relevant to China's future by aligning it with the businesses that are helping the economy grow at a phenomenal rate. It is an astonishing change for a party that once scorned capitalists as exploiters of the workers and farmers who make up the Communist Party's base.

The Party Congress convenes once each five years to set major policies for the next five year and to formally approve leaders to carry them out. As always, this Congress is shrouded in secrecy, with few details of its agenda given out. The 2,114 have arrived in Beijing, and final touches are being made on the Great Hall of the People, where the delegates will gather.

For weeks, Beijing has been cleaning up the streets, burnishing its landmark buildings and cracking down on crime. In the run up to the Congress, the government has hit out at corrupt officials and pressured dissidents to keep quiet.

China specialists have been intensely studying candidates for the seven or so top jobs in the all-powerful Standing Committee of the Politburo, which makes most important decisions in China. Still, very little is known about who will take those jobs or what other changes are to come in the top levels of the party.