China Marks 55th Anniversary Amid Corruption Worries


HONG KONG—China's top leaders celebrated the 55th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic on Oct. 1 in a low-key ceremony, amid vows to pursue peaceful reunification with Taiwan and to fight rampant corruption in the ruling Communist Party.

"We must be prepared to work hard and live plainly for a long time to come."

With Tiananmen Square at the heart of the capital under tight security, and no military parade or political sloganeering, Premier Wen Jiabao seemed focused on calls for honesty and plain hard work.

"We must persist in long-term arduous struggle," Wen told crowd of several hundred hand-picked guests, which including a dozen or so pro-democracy camp politicians from Hong Kong and a handful of independence-leaning Taiwan business leaders.

Struggle against graft

"Leading cadres at all levels must take the lead in carrying out arduous struggle, consolidate the will of the party and the people with concrete actions, and lead the broad masses of the people in a concerted effort to overcome difficulties that lie ahead," Wen said.

In a setting the official media depicted as warm and festive, rather than large and imposing, the reception appeared to underline attempts by President Hu Jintao and Wen, China's second most powerful leader, to project a humane and simple image.

"We must be prepared to work hard and live plainly for a long time to come," Wen was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua news agency. "We must wage a struggle against corruption in an in-depth and sustained manner, and severely punish corrupt elements."

"We must address both the symptoms and the root causes of corruption and take a comprehensive approach to improve systems and to prevent and curb corruption at its root," Wen said, highlighting a growing openness in Beijing about fears of social unrest caused by rampant abuse of official power at every level of government.

Less hard-line

"If the Communist Party continues the way it's going, it will certainly lead to its own demise, and the collapse of the country."

Commentators said the inclusion of pro-democracy Hong Kong politicians and Taiwan business leaders who supported the island's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was significant following a surprise intervention in Hong Kong's political development in April, and a heightening of cross-Straits tensions around the Taiwan presidential election in March.

"It shows a willingness to take less of a hard line on the part of central government in Beijing," Hong Kong commentator He Liangliang told RFA's Mandarin service.

But he and Xian-based independent political commentator Ma Xiaoming were deeply skeptical that the Communist Party's attempts to clean up its act would be successful.

"This will be very difficult. Everyone can see very clearly that corruption is a systemic problem in China," He said, although he did not foresee the collapse of the current regime as a result.

Sacred goal

But Ma disagreed. "If the Communist Party continues the way it's going, it will certainly lead to its own demise, and the collapse of the country. There's no doubt in my mind about that," he told RFA.

Wen also reiterated Beijing's vows to pursue peaceful reunification with Taiwan, which it regards as a renegade province.

"We will continue to implement the basic principle of "peaceful reunification and one country, two systems" and the "eight-point proposal," resolutely oppose and contain "Taiwan independence" separatist forces, and unswervingly safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity," Wen said.

While he made no threats regarding the use of force, following a period of saber-rattling during the March presidential election in Taiwan, he said that reunification was a "sacred goal" which must and should be achieved.

Distinguished guests

Hong Kong media showed footage of human rights lawyer and Legislative Council member Margaret Ng walking into the Great Hall of the People.

Local newspapers also reported that Beijing officials had agreed to meet Hong Kong university students for a discussion of the June 4, 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators.

Cambodian King Norodom Sihanouk and Queen Norodom Monineath Sihanouk, who are currently visiting Beijing, also attended the reception, Xinhua news agency reported.


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