HONG KONG—China's ruling Communist Party, whose leaders held a top-level policy meeting in the capital this weekend, has offered nothing new in the way of political change despite widespread calls for press freedom and greater government accountability, analysts said.
Instead, the fifth plenary session of the Party's 17th Central Committee focused on improving the standard of living for ordinary Chinese people over the next five years.
"China will further boost people's incomes, enhance social construction, and deepen reform and opening-up," said a communique issued Monday at the close of the plenum.
While the statement highlights "reforms" as a driving force in China's economic development for the next five-year plan (2011-2015), political analysts said there was little to suggest that there would be any real change in the way the country is run.
Zhan Jiang, a journalism professor at the Beijing Foreign Studies University, said that the main focus of the plenum seemed to be the growing social inequity that has been the side-effect of more than three decades of breakneck economic growth.
"At the level of social welfare I think the emphasis is on greater fairness of distribution of resources," Zhan said. "[They want to] give some more of the benefits to ordinary Chinese people."
On political reforms, Zhan said, China's leadership has its own notion of what constitutes political reform, which differs from that espoused by pro-democracy activists.
"They don't want to feel that they are subject to any outside pressure," he said. "They see a lot of problems, including the rich-poor divide and official corruption, as being contained in the issue of resources."
"It's about whether those resources are being made available to all the people or to just a small proportion of them."
Beijing Science and Technology University professor Hu Xingdou said the communique issued by the plenum was short on concrete details about Premier Wen's Jiabao's political reform proposals.
"Some people had imagined that this plenum would come up with something aimed at good governance," Hu said. "But in fact it didn't."
"By good governance they meant that the government would share political power with other groups by working in partnership with civic groups through negotiations and consultation, partnership, and dialogue."
'Social welfare card'
Beijing University professor Xia Yeliang said the plenum had produced nothing new, in spite of years of rhetoric from president Hu Jintao and Wen.
"Hu and Wen have been playing the social welfare card for the past eight years that they have been in power," Xia said. "There is a cacophony of protest from ordinary people."
"The communique talks about fairness in public services, but it's pretty vacuous, with no concrete steps outlined and no proposals that have gained broad support through discussions with the people," he added.
"None of this is possible without political reform."
Zhan called on the Party to first implement political reforms within its own ranks, especially when pursuing accountability among its own cadres and officials.
"Corporations and officials should be separated out," he said. "Some of the state-owned enterprises now under the control of [central government] should be hived off from the government entirely."
"They should also consider whether officials should declare their assets," Zhan added.
During the plenum, police in Beijing threw a tight net of surveillance around political activists and their families, including the wife of jailed 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo. They also detained petitioners—ordinary Chinese who travel to Beijing to complain about official wrongdoing in their hometowns.
The secretive annual meeting was scheduled to debate the new five-year economic blueprint, with Liu's award and recent calls for political reform sparking speculation about what was on the table.
Hu called recently for "inclusive growth" that leaves no one behind, the latest catchphrase indicating official unease over a widening wealth and privilege gap that sparks thousands of "mass incidents" of unrest annually.
Liu was sentenced to an 11-year jail term on Dec. 25, 2009 for "incitement to subvert state power" after he helped author a blueprint calling for greater freedom in China and an end to the Communist Party's political dominance.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.