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Chinese Communist Party to Hold Congress

The Chinese Communist Party meets in Beijing this week to elect top officials, and to decide how to deal with China's fast, but uneven economic development. VOA's Heda Bayron reports from Beijing on what could transpire during the Party Congress, which is held only every five years.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said the 17th Party Congress this week is a "very important" meeting, because it comes at a time when China is in a critical stage of its development.

Mr. Wen and President Hu Jintao want to ease social problems arising from China's two decades of rapid economic growth: the income gap between rural and urban residents, rising prices, rampant corruption, and environmental degradation.

Sujian Guo is a politics professor at San Francisco State University, and director of the Center for U.S.-China Policy Studies.

"Hu has recognized the major challenges and problems accumulated in the past years," he said. "That is, the single-minded pursuit of economic growth which has some negative impact on society, on the environment."

Mr. Wen and Mr. Hu's speeches this week will likely carry the slogans "harmonious society" and "scientific development." These phrases, loosely translated, mean emphasizing social stability and sustainable development, instead of the moneymaking frenzy that existed during the leadership of the previous president, Jiang Zemin.

Rural unrest is worrying the party leadership, whose legitimacy of one-party rule is based on the country's stability and development.

The public security bureau says at least 17,900 so-called "mass incidents," or protests, occurred last year.

Security is unusually tight in Beijing this week, with police virtually cordoning off the capital to prevent any influx of this rural discontent. Human rights groups say police rounded up some petitioners and dissidents months ahead of the Congress.

Past Congresses have seen major policy shifts. At the 7th Party Congress in 1945, Mao Zedong's "thought" was codified as party ideology. And at the 12th Party Congress in 1982, Deng Xiaoping's "socialism with Chinese characteristics" started the economic reforms that continue to propel China's rapid growth.

Much of the discussion will be held in secret. The 2,200 delegates to the Congress are expected to re-elect President Hu Jintao as party general secretary and elevate some of his allies to the Politburo and its powerful Standing Committee.

China watchers like Professor Guo will be scrutinizing the roster of new members for clues as to who might become China's next leader.

"I think you will not see a major generational change at the 17th Party Congress," he added. "It's more transitional. The changes will be reflected on some new faces, who are included in the Politburo. That will pave the way for the 18th Party Congress when Hu Jintao, Wen Jiabao are going to retire and these new faces will succeed the leadership."

While politically the Congress may be a tame affair compared with past Congresses, there could be tougher talk on Taiwan. Senior Chinese officials have hinted recently the party may issue a more hawkish policy toward the democratically ruled island.

China considers Taiwan part of its territory that must be reunified with the mainland eventually, by force if necessary.

Under the pro-independence President Chen Shui-bian, whose term ends next year, Taiwan has flirted with measures aimed at asserting its separateness, and strengthening its defense capabilities. In a move certain to anger China, Taiwan says it has developed its own long-range missile capable of reaching Shanghai.

The Communist Party has ruled China since 1949, after it defeated the Chinese Nationalists in a civil war. The Nationalists fled to Taiwan and established a rival government there.