IMAGE: Delegates at Chinese Communist Party Congress.
Greg Baker  /  AP
Delegates applaud Chinese Communist Party leader Hu Jintao's speech at the opening of the 17th Communist Party Congress in Beijing's Great Hall of the People on Monday.
updated 10/15/2007 8:29:19 AM ET 2007-10-15T12:29:19

Senior members of China's Communist Party will put forth a blueprint for reforming political institutions at a major congress this week, but the steps aim to strengthen one-party rule and will not copy Western democratic models, a spokesman said Sunday.

The congress, held once every five years, is a crucial test of strength for president and party leader Hu Jintao. He is set to open it Monday with a speech laying out the policy agenda for what is expected to be his final five years in power.

Previewing the gathering's agenda, congress spokesman Li Dongsheng said reforms were geared toward "improving socialist democracy" _ a catch-phrase for one-party rule.

"Our objective is to build institutions, define regulation and put in place procedures for our democracy," Li told reporters at a news conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, where the party's 17th congress will be held.

Li said the party has studied and drawn from other country's political systems, along with its own experiences. "But, we will never copy the Western model of a political system," he added.

Li gave few specifics and declined to answer questions about expected retirements and promotions in the party's ruling Politburo, highlighting the secretive party's extreme sensitivity over personnel issues.

'Enhance supervision'
He said reforms would also aim to strengthen the legal system and decision-making, increase the government's responsiveness and "enhance supervision and restraint over the exercise of power." He was referring to Communist Party control over individual leaders, not an attempt to limit the party's unrivaled hold on power.

Li did not elaborate, but the congress is expected to address the case of former Politburo member and Shanghai party boss Chen Liangyu, who became the highest-ranking party member to fall in a decade when he was toppled amid a probe into wide-ranging corruption.

The weeklong congress will offer a measure of Hu's authority after five years in power, especially his ability to maneuver allies _ possibly including a designated successor _ into key positions and assert the primacy of his vision of more balanced development.

Hu's leadership has never been threatened, but he is largely seen as weaker than past leaders, forcing him to compromise on some top appointments and other decisions. In a sign of possible constraints, Hu's retired predecessor, Jiang Zemin, was appointed to the committee handling the congress' arrangements, state media said Sunday.

Broadcast live on national television, Hu's opening speech to the congress Monday will be his highest-profile political address since taking power five years ago at the last party congress. Underscoring its importance, Li said the text had been circulated among more than 5,000 leading personages, with their suggestions and comments reflected in later drafts.

The congress' more-than 2,200 delegates will elect a new party Central Committee. That body in turn will approve a smaller Politburo and the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, the apex of power in China.

Deliberations over the lineup have been going on for months and will take place this week behind closed doors. Its makeup is officially announced after the congress ends.

Leadership issues
Along with leadership issues, delegates will review and approve Hu's report to the congress and another document on efforts to fight corruption and other misbehavior by the party's 73 million members. Delegates will also amend the party constitution to insert Hu's concept of "scientific development" that emphasizes increased spending on health care and education and helping the poorest Chinese.

Other major figures at the congress will include premier and third-ranking party member Wen Jiabao, a technocrat who is expected to remain in his post, and Zeng Qinghong, a former close ally of Jiang's who will serve as presidium secretary.

Hu is expected to push also for the elevation of protege Li Keqiang onto the Politburo Standing Committee, while Xi Jinping, the party boss of Shanghai and the son of a revolutionary veteran, is also expected to get a seat.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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