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China's Communist Leaders Meet to Discuss Party's Future - 2004-09-15

Chinese President Hu Jintao has ruled out ever enacting a Western-style democratic system in his country. Chinese Communist Party leaders are preparing to open their annual meeting Thursday, amid wide speculation about possible changes in the party leadership.

President Hu Jintao's comments were carried by state television a day before 198 members of China's Communist Party Central Committee were to hold their annual closed-door meeting in Beijing.

The Chinese president said history has shown that indiscriminately copying Western political systems is - in his words - a "blind alley" for China.

His speech, delivered on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the National People's Congress, reflected a growing concern among officials over the survival of their party and its socialist ideals at a time when China has become a free-market society.

Mr. Hu and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao have made the issue of governance, transparency, and official accountability a cornerstone of their leadership since they took office last year. Mr. Wen has said the survival of the Communist Party depends on its ability to root out official corruption and abuse.

Another problem expected to be tackled at the meeting is the on-going tension between the new leadership and the forces of former President Jiang Zemin.

The New York Times newspaper recently cited unidentified party sources as saying Mr. Jiang, now 78, is preparing to retire from his post as chairman of the central military commission. That post has allowed Mr. Jiang to retain considerable influence, and analysts say his stepping aside would allow Mr. Hu to consolidate his authority.

Cheng Li is a professor of government at Hamilton College in the United States who has recently published a book on China's new generation of leaders. He says he does not expect to see the kind of struggle in which Mr. Jiang would lose all of his power at one time. The professor says intense bargaining is more the style of China's new leaders.

"What characterizes Chinese politics now is this movement to a negotiation, compromise, and power sharing," he said. "So we probably will not see a vicious power struggle. But rather, it is a compromise and power sharing. So that kind of dynamic will occur during the meeting."

A number of analysts say Mr. Jiang might be compelled to give up some of his duties in exchange for having some of his political allies promoted to influential posts, but say they see his stepping down completely as only a remote possibility.