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Chinese Leaders Discuss Economic, Political Plans

Paramilitary policemen look back while patrolling on the Tiananmen Square in front of the late communist leader Mao Zedong's portrait in Beijing, China, 15 Oct. 2010

Paramilitary policemen look back while patrolling on the Tiananmen Square in front of the late communist leader Mao Zedong's portrait in Beijing, China, 15 Oct. 2010

China's top leaders are meeting in Beijing to discuss the country's future economic direction, as well as to set up the leadership succession after President Hu Jintao ends his second term in office.

The annual meeting of the ruling Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee opened Friday in a heavily guarded Beijing hotel.

Several hundred national and provincial officials are expected to discuss key parts of the country's next five-year development plan, which starts in 2011.

Cheng Li is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. He says the dominant issue will be developing an economic plan that improves people's livelihoods and increases domestic consumption.

"The central agenda is about the 12th five-year plan, particularly emphasizing social issues and also the further development of China's social welfare system, and the redistribution of wealth, etc," Li said.

Participants at the four-day meeting are expected to approve promotions in an emerging leadership line-up to succeed President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao.

China political analysts will close watch to see if Vice President Xi Jinping is promoted to the vice-chairmanship of the Central Military Commission. This would signal he is the favored successor to President Hu, who gives up his office in early 2013.

Li says there are two possible reasons Xi - who is considered to be in the fifth generation of Chinese leaders - may not be elevated to the military position. He says the first is possible factional infighting.

"The second interpretation is that the future succession in 2012 should be more open to competition, and it should not follow the old model, like what it did through the third and fourth generation, so we'll introduce more mechanism for inner party election," he added. "So, if that is the case, it could be an interpretation, a legitimate interpretation."

Recent calls for political reform hang over the meeting, although the issue is not expected to be discussed openly.

The push for reform has been highlighted recently, after jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was given this year's Nobel Peace Prize. Liu is one of the organizers of Charter 08, a political reform manifesto.

Days after that award, a group of retired senior party officials released an open letter calling for an end to official censorship.

One man who signed the letter, editor Tie Liu, says he believes ordinary people should be allowed to speak out freely, or else the Communist Party could perish.

Tie says the propaganda authorities who took the open letter off the Internet in an attempt to squelch discussion about calls for free speech are vicious criminals.

He says people like him are from China's older generation and worked hard to build up China. He says he is raising issues like free speech not because he wants to create confusion, but because he wants to help the Communist Party.

The party meeting is expected to end Monday, with information about its decisions coming out only afterwards.