Buried in a bleak text, hope for a Chinese political experiment
By John Ruwitch
BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese Communist Party leader Hu Jintao's opening speech at the ongoing 18th Party Congress was a disappointment to many listeners, offering no major signals that the leadership is willing to advance political reform.
The 64-page keynote speech he delivered was couched in the usual conservative and Marxist terminology, but one paragraph buried deep in the text was just what proponents of a long-running experiment in public policy consultations have been waiting for.
The section in question urged the ruling party to "improve the system of socialist consultative democracy".
Academics and officials say the mention of "consultative democracy" is the first ever in such an important document, and it is seen by some as a strong endorsement of the long-standing experiment with this form of democracy, in Wenling, a city of 1.2 million in Zhejiang province, south of Shanghai.
The city has formalized public consultation on public projects and government spending at the township level, although there is no voting and decisions remain the preserve of the state machinery.
Xi Jinping, almost certain to be named the next party general secretary on Thursday, was party boss in Zhejiang in 2002-2007, as the Wenling project deepened.
The congress report is the most important political speech in China. Delivered once every five years by the party's general secretary, it sets down political markers and charts a development course for the coming five to 10 years.
"Of course this is a good thing," said Chen Yimin, a Wenling propaganda official who has been a driving force behind the system of open hearings, where citizens can weigh in on things like proposed industrial projects and administrative budgets - providing at least a bit of check on their local officials. Continued...