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China's Communist Party Holds  Annual Conference - 2003-10-11

Leaders of China's Communist Party have opened their annual conference in Beijing.

Nearly 200 delegates from across China gathered with President Hu Jintao, who is presiding over the important meeting for the first time since he took office in March. The first session of the four-day meeting is being held behind closed doors.

Analysts expect no major policy shifts to come from this plenum. Instead, they foresee small changes, mainly regarding social issues.

President Hu's stated priority is to alleviate the growing gap between China's emerging wealthy class and the vast majority who live in abject poverty.

Beyond this, the government is saying it wants to improve transparency within the Communist Party, and President Hu has said he wants economic and electoral reforms.

It is widely expected that the party will seek to boost its image by launching China's first manned space mission sometime after the plenum concludes on Tuesday.

Although no dramatic policy changes are expected, analysts say the Communist leaders' main goal is to move China's economy further away from the traditional socialist model.

Leaders are expected to endorse former President Jiang Zemin's so-called Three Represents theory, in which the status of business people would be legitimized as a productive force on par with workers and farmers.

Political Science Professor Joseph Cheng of the City University of Hong Kong said the endorsement would formalize the government's recognition of business people as a force behind modernization.

"The so-called Three Represents theory is the repositioning of the party. The party no longer simply represents the vanguard of the proletariat, so to speak. The party tries to represent not only the broad community, but also those who represent the advanced productive forces, certainly including the entrepreneurs," Mr. Cheng said.

While some are getting rich, many Chinese view China's economic liberalization and boom as a curse that has resulted in the loss of millions of state-supported jobs and rampant corruption. There are also mounting protests over land issues, as state-backed construction projects force thousands from their homes.

Leaders, including President Hu, have called for the party to become more transparent and responsive to people's needs.

Analysts say these statements could be interpreted as a sign that the party leadership is recognizing its monopoly on power could be threatened, if it does not address China's social issues.