China's Communist Party hosts congress

FILE PICTURE: Chinense President Hu Jintao. Picture: AFP
CHINA - Outgoing President Hu Jintao promised political reform on Thursday, saying the nation faced risk and opportunity in equal measure as he formally opened a congress of the ruling Communist Party that will usher in a once-in-a-decade leadership change.

More than 2,000 handpicked delegates gathered at Beijing's cavernous Great Hall of the People for the start of the week-long session.

The congress is being held against a backdrop of growing social unrest, public anger at corruption and a widening gap between rich and poor.

Jintao said, "Reform of the political structure is an important part of China's overall reform."

But nobody expects a move towards full democracy and party spokesman Cai Mingzhao made it clear on Wednesday that one-party rule was inviolate.

"We must never let words act in place of the law or personal power replace the law; nor will we allow the ignoring of the law for personal benefit" Jintao said.

The party has expelled senior regional leader Bo Xilai and accused him of abusing his office, taking huge bribes and other crimes in a dramatic fall from power that has shaken the leadership transition.

During the congress, Jintao will give up his role as party chief to anointed successor Vice President Xi Jinping.

Jinping then takes over state duties at the annual meeting of parliament in March.

The government has tightened security in the run-up to the congress, even banning the flying of pigeons in the capital, and has either locked up or expelled dozens of dissidents it fears could spoil the party.