BEIJING (AP) -- His retirement at hand, President Jiang Zemin moved to cement his legacy at a historic party congress Friday, outlining a sweeping blueprint for tomorrow's China that he says will offer its people a more comfortable life in a blended system of socialism and the profit motive.
As the Communist Party Congress convened amid tight security, 2,114 delegates met in the Great Hall of the People under an outsized hammer and sickle to name a new generation of leaders -- and take up the daunting question of what communism means in a fast-moving global marketplace.
Jiang, China's president and the party's general secretary for at least a few more days, sounded the theme he has made his legacy: the notion of making sure the party stays relevant, and in power, through the convulsive changes that it unleashed.
"Our party must stand firm in the forefront of the times," Jiang said during his 90-minute address, aimed at both inspiring party delegates and securing his place alongside Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping in China's history books -- something he has carefully cultivated for years.
"We must move forward, or we will fall behind," said Jiang, whose notion of change is a novel one for the workers' party -- he has invited capitalist entrepreneurs to join. The congress is expected to take up that issue as well in coming days.
Most expect Jiang, 76, to be succeeded as Communist Party chief by Hu Jintao, 59, who is widely assumed to also be replacing Jiang as president next year. Jiang strode into the congress hall ahead of a column of leaders. Four behind him, in the usual stringent order of Chinese politics, was Hu.
The congress, held once every five years, was called to order at 9 a.m. sharp in a particularly challenging era for China -- one of dizzying change and the search for a political system that will stimulate enough economic growth to raise living standards and maintain stability.
Security on central Beijing's streets was heavy, with agents deployed every 20 feet -- including uniformed police and plainclothes officers from at least a half-dozen different security agencies. Red flags flew over buildings on Changan Avenue, the broad boulevard that crosses Tiananmen Square.
The Great Hall crackled with activity. Delegates arrived in caravans of tour buses, including large groups of military officers in full winter uniform. Minority delegates, including many Tibetans and Mongolians, wore ethnic garb and drank piping-hot cups of tea.
"Warmly celebrate the victorious opening to the Chinese Communist Party's 16th National Congress," exhorted a red banner hanging from a balcony over the main hall said. State television carried the event live, introducing it with a song: "Without the Communist Party, there is no new China."
Jiang said China would try to quadruple its gross domestic product between 2000 and 2020 and increase its international competitiveness "markedly." Under Deng and Jiang, China has pursued what it calls a "socialist market economy" to modernize and develop.
Major increases in urbanization will help fuel the growth, Jiang said.
He identified several areas of particular economic concern, including raising stagnant rural incomes and lowering unemployment. But his speech gave only passing mention to political reform, a hot-button issue with the international community, and he said the current system should be strengthened rather than overhauled.
Response to Jiang's speech was, predictably, enthusiastic.
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