BEIJING, Mar 1: Chinese Communist Party cadres will be assessed for the way they implement a plan for balanced urban-rural development as the Party prepares for a crucial congress, a senior official said today.
A deputy head of the Party Organisation Department, Ouyang Song, told a news conference that the Party would grade officials on how they applied a ''scientific outlook on development'' -- President Hu Jintao's jargon for diverting more of China's growth, health care, schools and services to struggling villages.
The Communist Party is widely expected to hold its next congress in 2007, and many observers believe Hu, who became Party general secretary at the last congress in 2002, will use the event to promote officials sympathetic to his agenda.
No official decision has been made on when the 17th congress will open, but the new assessment ''will provide a healthy setting'' for preparations, Ouyang told Reuters in a interview after the briefing.
Hu plans to create a ''new socialist countryside'' in which China's 750 million farmers enjoy improved services and incomes. But up to now, he has had to work alongside a ruling inner circle dominated by men promoted by his predecessor, Jiang Zemin.
The new assessment rules were being drafted and would probably be implemented later this year, Ouyang said.
They are part of a battery of measures the ruling party hopes will strengthen its authority, especially in China's countryside where unrest and huge mobility have eroded officials' grip.
''This period is both a golden one for development, but also one of pronounced conflicts,'' Ouyang told reporters.
He denied that these conflicts threatened overall stability or the Party's power. ''China is the world's most stable country -- that is acknowledged by the world. It shouldn't be strange that in a country so large, which is developing at such a pace, certain areas will experience mass incidents.'' But strained local government coffers and massive migration from villages have weakened the Party in the countryside, he said.
''There are some hardships with operational funding for township and village-level government and grassroots organisations,'' Ouyang said.
Migration of millions of young farmers to cities has left rural Party networks bereft of organisers, and some officials lack ''ideological standards'' and ''work ability'', he added.
In response, the Party is pouring 1.75 billion yuan into building new offices in 100,000 villages, and initiating pilot reforms to make local Party elections more open, Ouyang said.
By the end of 2005, the Party had 70.8 million members in 3.14 million branches, and all members would undergo the latest study campaign to preserve their ''progressiveness'', he said.
Critics of the Party's rural policies said these measures might strengthen its power but would not raise its credibility with increasingly disenchanted farmers.
''It's true that Party branches in villages are becoming more powerful and the whole rural Party apparatus has strengthened control,'' said Yao Lifa, an activist in central Hubei province who gained fame by contesting local, Party-dominated elections.
''But the ordinary people have lost confidence in local officials. Now they openly cuss them for their corruption and abuses of power, and put their hopes in the central leaders.''