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Chinese President Promises Economic Growth, Political Reform

China's week-long Communist Party Congress has opened in Beijing. Chinese President Hu Jintao promised to deliver balanced economic development, greater environmental protection and moderate political reforms. As VOA's Heda Bayron reports from the Chinese capital, this is the country's most important political meeting in five years.

In a two-and-a-half hour speech at the Great Hall of the People Monday, Chinese President Hu Jintao promised to improve living conditions for millions of poor Chinese.

Mr. Hu acknowledged that China's rapid but lopsided economic development over the past two decades has made life difficult for many.

Among the related problems, he mentioned the growing income gap between rich and poor, inadequate social welfare, corruption, and pollution.

In the next five years, Mr. Hu wants China to move more delicately toward what he called a "moderately prosperous society" with balanced and sustainable development.

Mr. Hu's speech to the 2,200 delegates to the congress was partly aimed at appeasing growing rural discontent that has, at times, erupted into violent protests. He promised social security reforms, such as a medical cooperative for rural residents, plans for an old-age insurance system, and increased subsistence allowances to the poor.

President Hu also promised to improve the public complaints system, fight corruption and increase democracy within the Communist Party by introducing a voting system to decide on major issues and official appointments to local party committees.

The Chinese leader also said Beijing wants a "peace agreement" to end the "state of hostility" with Taiwan, but only under the "one-China" principle. China considers Taiwan part of its territory that must be reunified with the mainland eventually, by force if necessary.

Security is extremely tight around the Great Hall of the People. The usually crowded Tiananmen Square is cordoned off and blanketed with police.

Human rights groups say many dissidents, petitioners and whistleblowers were detained and harassed weeks ahead of the Congress to prevent them from disrupting the proceedings.

Political analysts say a lot is riding on Mr. Hu's successful implementation of his agenda for the next five years. He is expected to retire in 2012 and this 17th Party Congress will likely encapsulate his legacy.

The delegates will later elect new senior party officials, who will take over from the current leadership.