China Communist Party to open key meeting mid-October

By Emma Graham-Harrison, BEIJING, Reuters

China’s Communist Party will open a critical meeting on Oct. 15, state media said on Tuesday, announcing a congress at which president and party chief Hu Jintao is expected to consolidate power with a leadership reshuffle.

The biggest political event in five years, the party congress is expected to set the booming country’s priorities for the coming years and may see Hu tap an heir-apparent from the ranks of a younger generation of leaders.

Almost five years into his mandate, Hu, 64, will seek to further consolidate power at the closed-door meeting of about 2,000 delegates — the 17th since the party was founded — and shake off the waning influence of predecessor Jiang Zemin, 81.

Even if Hu emerges from the meeting strengthened, the new leadership faces daunting challenges.

The government has been trying to check rising prices, stabilise the roller-coaster stock market, ensure grain supplies, curb official corruption, tackle environmental pollution and deal with rising protests spawned by a yawning wealth gap.

Rising international concerns about food and product safety in the world’s number-three exporter have been another headache.

On top of all that, safety issues would have to take a back seat if rival Taiwan approves a planned referendum seeking U.N. membership next March, five months before the Beijing Olympics. China, which regards the island as part of its sovereign territory, would be forced to respond, perhaps militarily.