President calls on governing party to stamp out corruption in China

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China’s President Hu Jintao called yesterday for sterner measures against official corruption while urging the Communist Party to maintain firm political control as he prepares to hand over power after a decade in office.

In a 90-minute speech opening a week-long party congress in Beijing to usher in new leaders for the coming decade, Mr Hu cited many of the challenges China faced – a rich-poor gap, environmentally ruinous growth and the imbalanced development between prosperous cities and a struggling countryside.

Yet he offered little evidence of fresh thinking to address ways to reinvigorate a flagging economy and meet public demands for more open government.

Only in addressing the rampant corruption did he sound the alarm. Mr Hu singled out party members, calling on them to be ethical and to rein in their family members, whose trading on their connections for money and lavish displays of wealth have deepened public cynicism about the party.

“Nobody is above the law,” he said to the applause of the 2,309 delegates in the Great Hall of the People, with his successor, Vice President Xi Jinping, and other party notables on the dais behind him.

He later said: “If we fail to handle this issue well, it could prove fatal to the party, and even cause the collapse of the party and the fall of the state.”

The appeal follows a scandal which has made the power transfer divisive. Senior politician Bo Xilai was purged for covering up his wife’s murder of British businessman Neil Heywood, but only after trials and media reports that portrayed party leaders as more interested in power than in governing.