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China's Communist Party Congress underway as leaders warn of dangers of corruption

Delegates applaud as China's President Hu bows after a speech at the opening ceremony of 18th National Congress of Communist Party of China. Photo: Jason Lee/Reuters

Was there an echo in the Great Hall of the People? When Hu Jintao made his speech to the 2,268 delegates, he once again warned of the dangers of corruption. Corrupt officials could "cause the collapse of the party," he said.

Speaking in July 2011 Hu told the audience during a special meeting commemorating the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party that corruption, if not curbed "will cost the Party the trust and support of the people". Sounds similar.

The fight against corruption is now a regular theme in speeches by top leaders and indeed has been for many years. The problem is that the numbers of officials prosecuted and the amounts involved just keep on rising.

It's been a tricky year to say the least when it comes to corruption at the top of the Chinese leadership. Former member of the Politburo Bo Xilai is about to go on trial accused of corruption and covering up the murder by his wife of the British business analyst Neil Heywood.

Reports suggest Bo and his family had assets, including luxury flats in London, worth around £85 million.

Then the New York Times recently claimed that the family of Premier Wen Jiabao has a fortune of around £1.6 billion. A claim rejected by lawyers said to be acting for Wen. The man who is about to appointed President; Xi Jinping, is also accused of having a family enriched by his connections.

The Chinese public are getting more and more angry about corruption. Today I spoke to delegates at the Communist Party Congress and one told me "the Party has made a big decision to start an anti corruption drive, ordinary people really hate corruption".

A recent survey by the Pew Research Centre backs that up by suggesting that 50% of the Chinese public think corruption is a major problem, that's up from 39% four years ago.

Will there be political reform in China?The day after the re-election of President Obama it was interesting to hear what delegates had to say about the prospect of political reform. There have been more visible demonstrations of public anger on the streets of Chinese cities in the last few months.

Recently we were in Ningbo, near Shanghai where middle class residents were protesting against a proposed chemical plant. Many were well educated and had travelled abroad, they were angry about a single NIMBY issue, but there was a broader point many told me they wanted the Government to listen more, to consult the people.

Chinese President Hu Jintao. Credit: Reuters

In his speech President Hu said China will "continue to carry out reform of the political structure but the country will never copy a Western political system".

I asked one delegate how long One Party rule in China can last, "I hope it will last forever". She added that in her opinion China already had a democratic system because party officials are selected from the grassroots.

Yesterday the spokesman for the Congress was asked if the event was "just a gathering of the few". No, he replied, "the delegates (all 2,268 of them) bring with them the wishes of the people (1.3 billion)".

That sums up what Chinese leaders call 'democracy with Chinese characteristics'. Does it work? You can argue it's delivered some significant success; pulling hundreds of millions out of poverty, ensuring this vast population doesn't starve, overseeing massive economic growth and entrepreneurial freedoms.

China's former President Jiang shakes hands with Premier Wen. Credit: Jason Lee/Reuters

Right now the West only appears to have broken economic models to offer as an alternative. Yet there is a desire for change, seen on the streets during protests: not to change the government, but to get the Government to change.

Many more Chinese now travel abroad and see for themselves the freedoms we take for granted. The society and economy has changed beyond recognition since the days of Chairman Mao and yet the political system stays the same.

No One Party state has survived longer than 70 years in modern history. For the next ten years, after they are appointed next week, China's new rulers will have to protect, and increasingly defend, one party rule over more than a billion people.

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