BEIJING (Reuters) - What China's Communist Party fears most is a crisis over corruption which would threaten its hold on power, but it is confident people will stand by its efforts to combat the problem, a senior official said on Tuesday.
President Xi Jinping has launched a sweeping campaign against graft since assuming the party leadership in 2012 and presidency in 2013, warning, like others before him, that the problem is so severe it could affect the party's grip on power.
In unusually frank comments before a group of mostly Chinese and Western academics and smattering of diplomats, Wang Jiarui, head of the party's international department, said being in power as long as the party had, since 1949, had bred a corruption problem.
"Under such circumstances, certain people will naturally be spurned and kicked out, but if there are many such officials it will cause a crisis for the ruling party, though we've obviously not reached that stage," Wang said.
"But what we are most concerned about and most worried about is precisely this problem," he added.
Unlike in a democracy, China has no opposition party to take over from the communists should they falter, though the party is confident it can root out its bad elements and has so far been very effective, Wang said.
"Our party has our party discipline, our philosophy and our rules. We will not lose our people, and the people will embrace us," he added.
The situation in fighting corruption "remains very serious", Wang said.
The Communist Party is keenly aware one of the reasons its predecessor in China, the Nationalists, lost the Chinese civil war in 1949 was because of the terrible corruption under their rule, costing them public support.
However, the Communist Party has repeatedly refused to allow the establishment of an independent body to fight corruption, insisting it can govern itself via the graft-busting Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.
The fight has been hampered to an extent by difficulty in getting suspected corrupt officials and assets back from overseas.
Western countries have baulked at signing extradition deals with China, partly out of concern about the integrity of its judicial system and treatment of prisoners.
Wang did not directly address that issue, saying instead he hoped people at the conference - opened to foreign media for the first time - would get a better understanding of the party's graft fighting efforts first hand.
"We really want to hear what you think we should be doing, and we're willing to listen to your criticisms, as long as they are well-intentioned."
Editing by Nick Macfie