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The 18th Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) began at Beijing on November 8,2012, with the traditional inaugural statement by the outgoing Party General Secretary, Mr.Hu Jintao.

2. After the inaugural statement, delegates from different provinces and regions take it up for detailed discussion before approving it. These detailed panel discussions are more important than the statement by the outgoing General Secretary because often the new party leaders who will be in office for the next 10 years initiate these panel discussions in important panels and draw attention to the important themes of the inaugural statement.

3.On November 8,2012, after Mr.Hu had read out his statement, Mr.Xi Jinping, who is tipped to take over from Mr.Hu as the next General Secretary before the Congress concludes, initiated the panel discussion before the delegates from Shanghai, who play a prominent and powerful role in the party affairs.

4. The details of his briefing have so far been carried by the “PLA Daily”, but not yet by the “People’s Daily” or the English edition of the “Global Times” or the “China Daily”. Based on a Xinhua summary, the “PLA Daily” stated as follows:

“The theme of the ongoing 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) explicitly defines the path and goal of the Party, Xi Jinping said on Thursday.

“ The underlying theme of the congress is “to hold high the great banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics, follow the guidance of Deng Xiaoping Theory, the important thought of Three Represents and the Scientific Outlook on Development, free up the mind, implement the policy of reform and opening up, pool our strength, overcome all difficulties, firmly march on the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and strive to complete the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects.”

“The theme of the congress, in a simple and explicit way, explains four major issues concerning the overall work of the Party and the country to people within and outside the Party, and to China and the rest of the world, Xi said.

“The issues are what banner the CPC will hold, what path it will take, what ideological state it will keep, and what goal it is trying to achieve.

“Putting forward such a theme is of crucial importance for the CPC to unite and lead people of all ethnic groups in the new historic journey to make greater achievements and keep up with the times.

“The theme of the congress is based on the full comprehension of current conditions of the world, the nation and the Party, the new requirements of the nation’s development and new expectations of the people. It is closely interlinked with the overall plan for promoting economic, political, cultural, social, and ecological progress in the cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics, Xi said.

“To thoroughly understand the theme of the congress, one must understand the historical background and soberly realize that the Party is facing unprecedented opportunities and challenges, while the key lies in whether the Party can grasp the opportunities and tackle the challenges in a cool-headed way.

“The Party shall continue to hold high the great banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics, maintain an ideological state to free up the mind, implement the policy of reform and opening up, pool the strength and overcome all difficulties, promote economic, political, cultural, social, and ecological progress and Party building in an all-around way.

“The Party shall unswervingly advance along the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and unite to forge ahead with tenacity and resolve, Xi said.

“The report delivered by Hu Jintao on behalf of the 17th CPC Central Committee pools the whole Party’s wisdom by giving full play of democracy, Xi said. “The report is clear-cut, profound, pragmatic and comprehensive, and will become the political manifesto and program of action to make new victory of socialism with Chinese characteristics under new circumstances.”

5. The most significant part of Mr.Xi’s remarks during the Shanghai Panel discussion was that while he specifically referred to Deng’s Theory as one of the guiding themes of the Party, he did not make a similar specific reference to Mao Zedong’s Thoughts.

6. There has been speculation for some weeks now that the Congress might amend the Party Constitution and that the proposed amendments might dilute the importance of Mao’s Thoughts as a guiding principle of the Party. This speculation had not been corroborated till now. The Panel remarks of Mr.Li could indicate the beginning of a Party exercise to ease out Mao from history without dishonouring him.

7.It may be recalled that one of the allegations against Bo Xilai, the discredited Party strongman from Chongquing now facing a criminal trial on various charges, was that he advocated the restoration of the purity of Mao’s Thoughts to strengthen the ideological basis of the party.

8. There were also reports of differences between President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao—-with Mr.Hu opposing Mr.Wen’s efforts to link the dismissal of Bo to his advocacy of Mao’s Thoughts. It was reported that Mr.Hu wanted that Bo’s trial should be projected purely as a criminal case and not linked to ideological issues relating to Mao.

9. On May 28,2012, a report attributed to the Reuters’ news agency had stated as follows:

“Chinese premier Wen Jiabao was recently criticized by fellow Communist Party officials for comments made in March that linked the radical policies of fallen political heavyweight Bo Xilai to Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution.

“President Hu Jintao refused to link Bo’s downfall to his neo-Maoist political ideology, and declared the scandal that led to the latter’s ouster an “isolated case” at a meeting of 200 officials earlier this month in Beijing, Reuters reported on Friday, citing three inside sources. The report appears to confirm speculation that China’s leaders are concerned that Bo’s case is being regarded as a political struggle between divergent party factions, rather than a genuine criminal case.

“Two of Reuters’ sources also claimed that the recent meetings saw Premier Wen — known for his progressive views on reform — chided by party comrades for earlier comments hinting that Bo’s ouster was related to his left-leaning ideology.

“At the close of two key political conferences on March 14, Wen said China risked a repeat of the upheaval of the Cultural Revolution unless the country implemented “urgent” political reforms. The disastrous socialist movement instigated by Chairman Mao, which took place between 1966 and 1976, saw millions of people persecuted in violent factional struggles and thousands of historical relics and artifacts destroyed.

“If the “new problems that have cropped up in China’s society” are not resolved, the “historical tragedy” of the Cultural Revolution may happen again, Wen said, adding that the “mistake” of the revolution is “yet to be fully eliminated.” Most believe the comments were directly targeted at Bo.”

10. Mr.Xi’s silence on Mao’s Thoughts as a guiding theme of the party and the earlier speculation about the likelihood of references to Mao’s Thoughts being removed from the Party constitution would indicate that the debate on the relevance of Mao’s Thoughts triggered off by Bo continues even after his humiliation. ( 9-11-12)

(The writer is B.RAMAN,Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: Twitter @SORBONNE75)

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