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In Jiang’s shadow, Hu tries to tone up party

Beijing, July 1 (Reuters): China’s Communist Party, which swept to power in a bloody civil war in 1949 and turned 82 today, must re-dedicate itself to the people if its grip is to remain unshaken, party chief Hu Jintao said.

Hu told a three-day seminar in Beijing the party “should dedicate itself to the interests of the public and govern for the people’s benefits”, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

“Power should be used for the people. Concern should be shown for the people and benefits sought for the people,” Hu said. Analysts say the party has become increasingly alienated from the people over the course of reform in the past two decades and its image has been dented by a string of corruption scandals involving senior members.

Hu took over the party leadership from Jiang Zemin last November in the first orderly succession since 1949. He then succeeded Jiang as state President in March. “This new leadership has cut out its role as being caring for the people,” one Asian diplomat said.

Xinhua made no mention of any call by Hu for reforms or inner party democracy, contrary to widespread speculation.

Hu invoked his Jiang’s “Three Represents” political theory — a blueprint for broadening the party’s membership to include previously shunned private entrepreneurs — which analysts interpreted as a sign that he was not strong enough to push through his own agenda.

They said Hu was struggling to emerge from the shadow of the still influential Jiang.

The party is under growing pressure to introduce bolder changes after monopolising politics for more than five decades, but any reform would be aimed at preserving party rule.

The party “will not reform for the sake of reforming”, the Deng Xiaoping Theory Research Centre at the elite Peking University said in an essay carried in the official People’s Daily, the party mouthpiece.

“Rather, we will strengthen and improve the party’s construction through reforms,” said the centre, which interprets Deng Xiaoping Theory, considered as one of the party’s bibles.

Hong Kong protest

In Hong Kong, handed over to China in 1997, protesters burned a Communist Party flag as Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao tried to reassure the territory that citizens’ basic rights and freedoms would be protected. Hundreds of thousands of protesters denounced the Hong Kong government’s planned anti-subversion law and demanded the right to elect their own leaders.

The new party leadership must tackle a plethora of problems — up to 60 million state workers have been laid off and overtaxed peasants have rioted in some places. The party, founded by 12 people at a secret meeting in a girls’ school in Shanghai on July 1, 1921, boasted 66.94 million members at the end of last year, the People’s Daily said.

Under the Communists’ 53-year watch, 30 million people have died in famine and millions were banished to the countryside or hounded to death during the leftist 1966-76 Cultural Revolution. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, were killed on June 3-4, 1989 when the army brutally crushed student-led demonstrations for democracy centred on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

But under the Communists, China’s 1.3 billion people have gained greater freedom in what to eat and wear, where to live and travel and the ability to get rich.

Brandishing banners, umbrellas and fans, a crowd estimated at hundreds of thousands braved stifling heat today to denounce Hong Kong’s planned antisubversion law and demand the right to elect their own leaders.

“Return rule to the people,” they chanted. Many wore black to mourn what they said was the demise of rights and freedoms in one of the world’s key financial centres.

Critics say the law, which Hong Kong has to enact under Article 23 of its “Basic Law” miniconstitution, poses the biggest threat to basic rights in the former British colony since it reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.

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