The 17th Congress of the Communist Party of China was held Oct. 15-19 in Beijing. Over 2,200 delegates, representing 73 million party members, discussed far-reaching goals for economic, political, social and international work. Amendments were made to the party’s constitution. Lastly, central committee members were elected by secret ballot and a new top leadership was announced.

The policies for China’s development in the upcoming period were presented on the first day by General Secretary Hu Jintao in his keynote address. The policy themes are a consensus of the CPC leadership on the issues of major importance requiring solutions. These will be hammered out in practice through experiments and implementation measures during the post-congress period.

Hu’s roadmap is the “scientific outlook on development.” This concept entails sustainable, balanced, coordinated development with unified economic and social planning. It calls for less emphasis on growth per se, and more on the quality of growth and its impact on the natural environment. Included also is the distribution of the benefits of growth based on social equity.

The goal of Hu’s roadmap is to create a “socialist harmonious society.” It acknowledges that the “disharmonies” or contradictions resulting from market reforms must be resolved.

Hu’s approach is “people-centered,” highlighting poor farmers and disadvantaged urban dwellers, rural-to-urban migrant workers, laid-off industrial workers and those in the less developed central and western provinces.

The remedies are wide-ranging. They include reconstruction of health, education and other components of the torn social safety net, reversing the devastated natural environment, attacking the structural roots of corruption, increasing the economic resources of the low-income majority and providing more opportunities for democratic participation.

This is nothing short of a mammoth project to correct the serious economic, social and political gaps between classes, strata, sectors and regions.

Hu proclaimed the year 2020 as the next major timeline for measuring this endeavor. This is when a “moderately prosperous society in all respects” will be in place. Commonly called the “well-off society” in party literature, it marks another step in laying the material, cultural and political foundations for a more complete socialist society by 2050.

By 2020, most people will be living between subsistence and affluence, with poverty eliminated and the income gap substantially reduced. The plan calls for universal health care and secondary education coverage, all workers unionized regardless of sector, a high-tech-led industrialization completed and environmental damage contained.

Over the next five years, further foundations for 2020 must be built, starting with a quadrupling of the per capita GDP (to at least US$8,000) under new environmental and resource restrictions.

Another portion of Hu’s keynote gaining attention concerned political reform. “Democracy” was mentioned 60 times in his 145-minute talk. He vowed to expand people’s democracy, while affirming that Western capitalist democracy was not viable for socialist China.

Besides providing guidelines for both inner-party and people’s democracy, he mentioned some specific mechanisms such as worker’s self-management and the two-ballot electoral system. The latter would have local candidates for CPC committees determined by both a popular vote and a vote of CPC members.

Several amendments were made to the CPC constitution. The major one added “the scientific outlook on development” and associated concepts. This seals it as China’s official blueprint. New language also indicates the basic line for China is a “prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious” socialist society.

For the first time the constitution states the CPC will “unswervingly encourage, support and guide the development of the non-public sector” and provides for the equal treatment of both public and private sectors. Lastly, it incorporates the CPC’s role in guiding work related to ethnic and religious affairs.

Regarding leadership, the delegates, of which about 20 percent were women, elected a new 204 person central committee (14 women, 17 national minorities) from a list of 221 candidates. Twenty-five persons comprise the new political bureau (1 woman, 1 Hui Muslim). The top leadership (7 Han Chinese males) of the political bureau’s standing committee, headed by Hu, was presented for the first time. Four new faces replaced three retirees.

All but two of the standing committee members will reach the mandatory retirement of 68 by the next CPC congress in 2012. The two new members who will not are Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang. They are widely deemed to become successors for the positions of general secretary and premier (head of state). Of course this depends on several factors, not least of which is their performance over the next five years.