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World News

China's Communist Party turns 86, still going strong

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s ruling Communist Party turned 86 on Sunday vowing to make itself stronger, cleaner and more responsive in order to take on fresh challenges and meet the people’s new expectations.

The party, which boasts 73 million members, needs to enhance “self-construction” in the face of “unprecedented opportunities and challenges” facing China’s development, said an editorial in the party mouthpiece, the People’s Daily.

“We should comprehensively grasp new demands coming up as our country develops and the people have new expectations,” said the editorial marking the 86th anniversary of the founding of the party, which has monopolized power since the 1949 revolution.

The editorial unusually was relegated to page two as the party bash took a back seat to celebrations marking the 10th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule.

About 2.6 million people joined the party in 2006, or 160,000 more than the 2005 figure, state television said. One-third of the new members are women and 80 percent of them aged below 35.

The editorial was in line with a keynote speech by party chief Hu Jintao last Monday, setting the tone for the 17th party congress in the autumn. Hu is expected to further consolidate power at the congress through a leadership reshuffle and unveil his national agenda for the next five years.

PANTHEON

Hu’s speech elevated his political doctrines -- harmonious society and scientific development -- to the same political status as those of his predecessors. Analysts said this paved the way for him to join the country’s pantheon of socialist greats.

Hu, who took the party’s top job in 2002, pledged cautious reforms to expand citizens’ “orderly political participation” but insisted they should adhere to a “correct direction” with continuous one-party rule.

The first three decades of the People’s Republic were marked by a famine which starved to death an estimated 30 million and by political mass movements culminating in the chaotic 1966-76 Cultural Revolution. A rigid planned economy almost bankrupted the world’s most populous nation.

In the late 1970s, under pragmatic leader Deng Xiaoping, the party embraced market-oriented reforms which transformed China from an economic backwater into a powerhouse, underscoring its own legitimacy.

Today, an ideological vacuum, rampant official corruption and widening social disparities accompanying the dazzling growth have dented the party’s image and fuelled public discontent.

“A great cause needs a great party, and only a great party can shoulder a great cause,” the People’s Daily editorial said.

“We should train high-quality leaders, cadres and party members,” it said. “The party’s creativity, cohesion and combat capability must be unremittingly enhanced.”

The editorial echoed Hu’s call to deepen intra-party democracy and his emphasis on the battle against graft, which leaders have repeatedly warned threatened the party’s survival.

“We should fully understand the long-term, difficult and complex natures of the anti-corruption struggle,” the editorial said. “Facing an arduous mission and heavy tasks, all party comrades must think of danger while in times of safety.”

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