BEIJING — Capping 10 careful years at the helm of the Communist Party, China’s top leader is stepping into history with a series of rear-guard actions.
The leader, Hu Jintao, 69, is scheduled to step down as the party’s general secretary next week, handing over power to his designated successor, Xi Jinping. But over the past few months, he has made it clear that he has little interest in the bold changes to the status quo that many Chinese now see as long overdue.
“He’s worried about how history will view him," said Qian Gang, who works with the China Media Project at the University of Hong Kong. “On the whole, he is against reform."
Hu made a key speech in July that dashed reformers’ hopes for measures to resuscitate the faltering economy and release social pressures by opening the political system.
On Thursday, he wrote himself a glowing eulogy: a 100-minute address to the 18th Party Congress that was also meant to serve as a blueprint for Xi’s term in office.
In a voluminous, 64-page formal document issued at the party congress, Hu nodded to almost every manner of change — economic, social, political and environmental — and he opened the door to some potentially important measures to limit the dominance of the state in the economy. But he balanced those with warnings to guard against a rise in unrest, a striking admission for a man whose signature slogan was to turn China into a “harmonious society."
“Social contradictions have clearly increased," Hu wrote in the document. “There are many problems concerning the public’s immediate interests in education, employment, social security, health care, housing, the environment, food and drug safety, workplace safety, public security and law enforcement."
According to Qian, a leading expert on textual analysis of Chinese leaders’ speeches, Hu’s speech hit on almost every anti-change phrase used by Chinese Communist leaders.
He referred to Communist China’s founder three times with the phrase “Mao Zedong Thought," and he said the party must “resolutely not follow Western political systems," something not mentioned at the last congress five years ago.
“They don’t say these terms lightly," Qian said. “When they mention it, it matters."