BEIJING (Reuters) - China must focus on economic growth and social stability in the face of a global slump, President Hu Jintao said on Thursday, vowing a stronger state role in steering market reforms.
In a speech celebrating 30 years of reform policies that have ushered in a stronger economy and rising expectations at all levels of society, Hu tried to deliver reassurance that government efforts to counter the economic crisis were working.
He also warned the Communist Party not to be complacent, saying its political status as ruling party was not a given, but Hu ruled out embracing Western-style democracy in a sign the Party was not about to hold elections anytime soon.
“We must deeply recognise that the Party’s advanced nature and ruling party status are not ... unalterable,” Hu said.
Hu also renewed his promise to create a more equal and “harmonious society” as the country frets over rising unemployment and spreading discontent. After five straight years of double-digit growth, China is headed for single-digit expansion this year and a sharper slowdown next year.
Pride of place in Hu’s address to ranks of officials in the cavernous Great Hall of the People was the insistent message that growth and Party control came before all else.
“Only development makes hard sense,” Hu said more than once, reviving a slogan the late reformist leader Deng Xiaoping used to spur on investment and spending.
“Making economic development the focus is the key to national rejuvenation and it is the fundamental imperative for our Party and our country achieving prosperity and development and enduring peace and stability.”
Hu’s speech celebrated China’s success since 1978, when a Party leadership meeting agreed to focus on economic development after decades of turmoil and isolation under Mao Zedong.
But the keynote address was also a peptalk.
Hu said China had “achieved positive results in responding to the international financial crisis” and that the country needed to continue its difficult balance of market reforms and top-down political control.
“We must earnestly implement various measures to further boost domestic demand and promote economic growth, properly address the global financial crisis and other risks from the international economic world and do our best to keep relatively fast and stable growth,” Hu said.
China is worried that the thousands of factories shutting or laying off workers, especially along the export-dependent coast, could lead to unrest if the unemployed hit the streets.
While stressing that officials must back market reforms and the private economy, Hu dwelt on the need for greater state control. China must “focus on strengthening and improving the state’s macro-economic controls and overcoming certain shortcomings in the market itself,” he said.
But Hu also said the country owed three decades of growth to Deng’s reforms that tore down the rigid controls of Mao’s time, opening the economy to private and foreign investment.
His theme of carefully controlled change under the Communist Party extended to politics, where he said officials must heed the needs of citizens.
“We must draw on the beneficial fruits of humankind’s political civilisation, but we will never copy the model of the Western political system,” Hu said in a speech loaded with Party slogans and salutes to past leaders.
China is already grappling with a surge in popular discontent, caused by corruption, a growing rich/poor divide, illegal land grabs and other contentious issues. (For a related analysis on dissent in China, click on [nPEK213054]
“We must be clearly aware that development is of overriding importance and stability is our overriding task; if there is no stability, then nothing can be achieved, and what achievements we have made will be lost,” he said.
Exports shrank 2.2 percent from their year-earlier level in November, the first monthly fall in many years, underlining the danger of social instability, a primary concern of the Communist leadership.
The country’s commerce minister ruled out a currency depreciation as a way of boosting exports, stressing that China would only seek to help its beleaguered exporters in ways that benefited the wider world.
“The renminbi exchange rate should be quite stable, because given our situation, everybody needs stability,” Chen Deming told reporters on the sidelines of the anniversary ceremony.
Zhou Xiaochuan, China’s central banker, also insisted that China would forge its own path on monetary policy when asked if he felt pressure to reduce interest rates after the U.S. Federal Reserve slashed rates this week to between zero and 0.25 percent.
“It’s not certain that we have much of a relationship with that. We will do things according to our own data,” he said.
Reporting by Beijing Bureau; Editing by Nick Macfie and Dean Yates