The Communist Party of China (CPC) held their 16th Congress, Nov. 8-14, which inaugurated a blueprint for the first 20 years of this century, amended the CPC Constitution concerning the theory and nature of the party and inaugurated a succession between the third and fourth leadership generations. The 2,114 Congress delegates represented 66 million CPC members.

The Congress opened with a keynote report by outgoing General Secretary Jiang Zemin. The comprehensive, 10-part document covered a wide range of topics.

Besides recounting the achievements of Jiang’s 13-year tenure, it elaborated the “Three Represents” theory of the party, projected the goals, tasks and problems of building an “all-round well-off society” by 2020, and examined the issues of economics, politics, culture, national defense, reunification, international relations and party building.

Especially singled out as serious problems requiring deep-seated remedies were unemployment, socio-economic inequalities and corruption. But the report’s most discussed topics among delegates, in press conferences and in the Chinese and foreign press concerned China’s blueprint for the 21st century and amendments to the constitution. Jiang’s report specifies the comprehensive building of a well-off society whereby 2020 the majority will live between subsistence and affluence. Among the goals are minimum $2,000 per capita GDP, poverty elimination, income gap reduction, a completed high tech-led industrial base, secondary education and health care universalized and containment of environmental deterioration.

The amendments to the CPC Constitution excited much discussion. Previously the Constitution described the party as “the vanguard of the working class of all nationalities in China.” That has now been amended to read “the vanguard of the Chinese working class and of the Chinese people and the Chinese nation.”

These are mentioned in Jiang’s report as “other social strata (such as) … managerial and technical personnel employed by foreign-funded enterprises, the self-employed, (and) private entrepreneurs …” They are deemed “builders of the cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics.” They are evaluated not in terms of their private property ownership, but their political consciousness, behavior and adherence to CPC principles, line and policy. The amendment to the Constitution reads: “Any Chinese worker, farmer, member of the armed forces, intellectual or any advanced element of other social strata … may apply for membership.” About 112,000 capitalists are already in the CPC, but they were members before they became business owners. The Constitution now allows them into the party after they become capitalists.

In this situation, the current leadership has sought to co-opt the capitalists into the CPC rather than have them grow into a separate force that would threaten socialist goals. This is also done by keeping the public economy dominant with the state sector controlling the “commanding heights” and using macro-economic controls to guide the market and the private sector.

In Jiang Zemin’s words, “incorporating both [sectors] into the process of socialist modernization … instead of setting them against each other.”

The new amendments are a formal recognition of the current social and economic structure and one way to resolve the situation. This has not been without opposition from party members who believe the CPC should remain an exclusively working class vanguard and allow capitalists to pursue their interests via existing business and parliamentary organizations. They also think this proximity to political power is conducive to corruption and has a potential to affect party policy in a non-socialist direction.

The Congress also elected a new Central Committee (CC) with 198 full and 158 alternate members. The majority are new. There are 27 women, 35 ethnic minority members, 98.6 percent have college degrees and the average age is 55.4. The Political Bureau (PB) has 25 members with one woman and two ethnic minorities. The PB Standing Committee, the CPC’s top leadership group, has nine men (one ethnic minority) in their 50s and 60s, with Hu Jintao as General Secretary. All started their occupational careers as engineers. This is the first PB in CPC history without a worker or peasant. Everyone but Hu Jintao retired from the previous PB.

The new leadership is committed to carrying out the 21st century blueprint and the mandates of the Constitution. How it will pursue these economic, political and ideological policies will depend on the changing conditions within the CPC, as well as domestically and internationally.

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