China's Hu pledges reform with Party in charge

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BEIJING, Oct 15 (Reuters) Communist Party rule remains vital as China becomes increasingly diverse, Chinese leader Hu Jintao said today as he opened the Party's biggest political meeting in five years and promised to press ahead with economic reform.

The 17th Congress will enshrine his slogans and name likely successors in a show of unity by the ruling Party that governs more than 1.3 billion and the world's fourth biggest economy.

''We must uphold the Party's role as the core of leadership in directing the overall situation,'' Hu said in a speech to more than 2,200 delegates, adding that political reform must continue in orderly way.

After dramatically ousting former Shanghai Party boss Chen Liangyu last year over corruption, Hu warned that graft was still a major threat and would not be tolerated.

''Resolutely punishing and effectively preventing corruption bears on the popular support for the Party and on its very survival, and is therefore a major political task the Party must attend to at all times,'' he said.

Since he succeeded Jiang Zemin as Party chief in 2002, Hu has promoted a ''harmonious society'' that grafts efforts to spread wealth more equally on to the nation's market-driven economy.

That slogan and Hu's notion of a ''scientific outlook of development'' that aims to balance growth with environmental sustainability are set to be written into key Party documents -- a victory for Hu in a system where ideological formulas are a currency of political power.

FINE BALANCE Today, Hu indicated he would continue to pursue a path of more balanced growth.

''We will implement the responsiblity system for conserving energy and reducing emissions,'' Hu said. ''Our economic growth is realised at an excessively high cost of resources and the environment.'' Hu also promised to develop a more technologically sophisticated defence force and offered an olive branch to Taiwan, the self-ruled island that Beijing claims as its own.

''We are willing to make every effort with utmost sincerity to achieve peaceful reunification of the two sides, and will never allow anyone to separate Taiwan from the motherland in any name or by any means,'' he said.

Police were out in force in Beijing for the Congress, with shows of force outside major hotels hosting delegates and around Tiananmen Square, the political heart of China.

''Look at all those police. Not even a bird could fly over,'' observed cab driver Wang Jiandong as he passed the Great Hall of the People, decked out with scores of red flags and where Hu delivered his address.

Dissidents have been detained and thousands of petitioners rounded up to stop them lobbying officials directly with calls for justice.

Reuters CS VP0725

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