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Chinese Communist party opens congress to usher in next leader

BEIJING — Capping 10 careful years at the helm of the Communist Party, China’s top leader, Hu Jintao, boasted on Thursday of successes during his tenure while issuing a blunt warning against unrest and political reform.

Hu, 69, is to step down as the party’s general secretary next week, handing power to his designated successor, Xi Jinping. His speech at the opening of the Communist Party’s 18th congress was likely to be his last major address — a chance to write his own eulogy while also setting the course for Xi.

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‘‘He’s worried about how history will view him,’’ said Qian Gang, who works with the China Media Project of Hong Kong University. ‘‘On the whole, he is against reform.’’

Formally, Hu nodded to almost every manner of reform: economic, social, political, and environmental. But, in the fashion of his predecessors, this was balanced with warnings of the need to guard against a rise in unrest. It was an unusual admission for a man whose signature slogan is creating for China a ‘‘harmonious society.’’

“Social contradictions have clearly increased,’’ said the formal 64-page document issued at the congress. Hu’s speech, even at 100 minutes, was only a summary.

‘‘There are many problems concerning the public’s immediate interests in education, employment, social security, health care, housing, the environment, food and drug safety, workplace safety, public security, and law enforcement.’’

The solution, Hu said, was ‘‘reform and opening up,’’ a policy initiated by the man who chose him for the job nearly two decades ago, paramount leader Deng Xiaoping.

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Hu also lauded his own contribution to Communist Party ideology: ‘‘scientific development.’’ Most of his predecessors have had their own ideologies enshrined as guiding state doctrines. His repetition of the phrase — which means that the party should be pragmatic and follow policies that are demonstrably effective — implied that he, too, would be so honored.

But his caveats to reform were many.

According to Qian, a leading expert on textual analysis of Chinese leaders’ speeches, Hu’s speech hit on almost every antireform phrase used by Chinese Communist leaders.

He referred to Communist China’s founder three times with the phrase ‘‘Mao Zedong Thought,’’ and said the party must ‘‘resolutely not follow Western political systems,’’ something not mentioned at the last party congress five years ago.

‘‘They don’t say these terms lightly,’’ Qian said. ‘‘When they mention it, it matters.’’

Hu also coined a new term, pledging that the party will not follow the ‘‘wicked way’’ of changing the party’s course.

Hu’s speech is thought to have been drawn up in cooperation with his successor, Xi. While Xi is thought to be consulting with liberal members of China’s intelligentsia, he either did not oppose Hu’s direction or was not able to change it.

That is important, observers say, because Xi will not exercise unrestrained power when he takes over. Besides the other half-dozen members on the Standing Committee of the party’s Politburo, he also must listen to advice of Hu, Hu’s own predecessor, Jiang Zemin, and about 20 other senior leaders.

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