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China’s Communist Party Congress Faces Political Transition, Corruption Issues

November 8, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT

JEFFREY BROWN: And we turn now to China, where a much different political selection process has begun at the 18th Communist Party Congress.

We begin our coverage with a report from Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News.

LINDSEY HILSUM: State-of-the-art technology at the service of old-fashioned propaganda. The film’s called “A Decade of Glory,” and it’s all thanks to the Chinese Communist Party.

This afternoon, Mao Tse-Tung stared down at an empty Tiananmen Square, the area outside the Great Hall of the People cleared of people. Earlier, a woman had tried to scatter protest leaflets. She had no time to explain her cause before being bundled away.

Security is tight, as you would expect on the first day of such an important meeting. But they have brought in some rather extraordinary measures. The handles have been taken off the back doors of taxis to stop people from jumping out. You’re not allowed to fly toy airplanes or balloons or carry ping-pong balls or buy a knife from the supermarket.

Inside, 2,000-plus delegates gathered. In theory, they debate policy and elect a new leadership. This is the last Congress as leader for President Hu Jintao, who’s stepping down. In practice, he and the party elite have made the important decisions in secret in advance.

Pride of place on the platform went to 86-year-old former President Jiang Zemin. The old guard still pull the strings. As Hu spoke for 93 minutes about his decade in power, the man expected to succeed him, Xi Jinping, took notes. He will inherit a party which knows the people are angry about the growing gap between rich and poor and corruption amongst the elite.

PRESIDENT HU JINTAO, China (through translator): Opposing corruption and building an honest and clean government is a clear stance the party has been adhering to and is an important political issue that people have been paying attention to. If we fail to handle this issue well, it could prove fatal to the party and even cause its collapse and the fall of the states.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Strong words, but they have been said before, and the families of some current politburo members are suspiciously wealthy. The delegates, who come from all over China, poured out into the sunshine. They know their lines.

MAN (through translator): I’m proud of the Communist Party. It created miracles in history. It’s found a path that leads to the rise of the Chinese nation.

LINDSEY HILSUM: In the southern city of Shenzhen, evening exercises take place under the gaze of Deng Xiaoping, the leader who introduced economic reform and opening up more than 30 years ago. Since then, Chinese people’s lives have been transformed.

But Deng’s successors at today’s Congress show no sign of bringing political reform. They still hope the people will be content to make money and not question the power of the Communist Party and the wealth of its leaders.