China's ruling Communist Party has begun a congress which will usher in the next decade of leadership in the country. President Hu Jintao warned the party faces "collapse" if it fails to clean up corruption.
In his opening speech the party's outgoing general-secretary, President Hu Jintao, delivered his starkest warning yet about fighting corruption.
"If we fail to handle this issue well, it could prove fatal to the party and even cause the collapse of the party and the fall of the state,” he said.
In his speech, Hu also positioned China for a more assertive role as he insisted it should be a "maritime power" that "resolutely" protects its interests. China has been skirmishing with Japan and other Asian neighbors over several territorial disputes.
The party congress, held every five years, began on Thursday with more than 2,000 hand-picked delegates gathering in Beijing's Great Hall of the People. During the week-long session, President Hu Jintao (pictured above) will give up his role as party chief, handing power to successor Vice President Xi Jinping.
"At present, as the global, national and our party's conditions continue to undergo profound changes, we are faced with unprecedented opportunities for development as well as risks and challenges unknown before," Hu said during the customary speech signalling the start of the meeting.
The government significantly increased security in the run-up to the conference, going so far as to ban flying pigeons in the city and detaining or expelling dozens of dissidents.
Authorities added extra security in and around the Great Hall and the adjoining Tiananmen Square, site of the 1989 pro-democracy protests that were crushed by the military.
China's Communist Party came to power in 1949 after a long and bloody civil war.
Party spokesman Cai Mingzhao said Wednesday there would be improved efforts to encourage better debate within the party, but single-party rule will remain.
"The leading position of the Communist Party in China is a decision made by history and by the people," he said. "Political reform must suit China's national reality. We have to unswervingly stick to the right path blazed by the party."
"The reform of the political structure is an important part of China's overall reforms," Hu said at the conference.
"We must continue to make both active and prudent efforts to carry out reform of the political structure and make the people's democracy more extensive, fuller in scope and sounder in practice."
dr, hc/rc (Reuters, dpa, AFP, AP)