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China's Communist Party Holds Annual Meeting, Saturday - 2003-10-10


Leaders of China's Communist Party will hold their annual conference in Beijing starting on Saturday. The meeting will give new President Hu Jintao a chance to talk about the economic and electoral reforms he has in mind. The meeting of top party officials is the first since Hu Jintao became president and general secretary of the Communist Party, following the retirement of Jiang Zemin in March.

The power transition occurred as China's economy continued its spectacular boom, which has seen many people grow rich, while the majority remains poor. Mr. Hu took office with plans to address the growing gap.

President Hu and other party leaders are saying they will present plans for economic and electoral reforms at the plenum. These include possible changes to the constitution that would guarantee the rights of entrepreneurs.

They are also planning a discussion on expanding a program that lets people directly elect their party leaders at the local level.

Past plenums have yielded big policy changes, but analysts say that is not likely at this meeting. They say the proposed electoral changes would amount to no more than a small step toward democratization.

David Zweig of the Hong University of Science and Technology says the big issues are social issues.

"Politically, we don't have any reason to think that anything major is going to come out of this, in the sense that we've witnessed no major power shift," said Mr. Zweig. " What we have seen, though, is a shift in the agenda of the leadership over the last year or two, where Hu Jintao and (Premier) Wen Jiabao ... have put a social agenda, a social welfare agenda, much more up front."

The new focus is a shift from former President Jiang Zemin, whose administration promoted market reforms and economic growth.

The closed-door meeting is taking place amid a growing wave of demonstrations by unemployed people, and by those angry over land seizures that have resulted from a construction boom.

Party leaders want to come up with a consensus that balances the need for continued economic growth and, at the same time, addresses the plight of millions who continue to live in abject poverty.

Although analysts say the changes adopted at the meeting will be small steps, the Communist Party leaders want the gathering to show that their party and the whole of China remain united and strong.

It is widely expected that China will launch its first manned space mission shortly after the conclusion of the four-day plenum, to become the third nation after the United States and Russia to put a human in orbit.

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