Hu Jintao Hails China's 'Golden Decade'

Mark Stone, China Correspondent

Outgoing Chinese President Hu Jintao has hailed what he described as his "golden decade" in power with a speech marking the opening of the Chinese Communist Party conference in Beijing.

But Mr Hu, who will hand over to a new generation of leaders at the end of the congress, warned of significant challenges ahead both at home and abroad.

"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," he told a gathering of more than 2,000 party members.

He acknowledged issues like corruption and accepted that change was needed.

"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.

However he fell well short of calling for wholesale reform of the Chinese political system.

"We do not go down the road rigidly and without change," he said. "But we do not go by another road either."

The week long Communist Party Congress represents the end of the long, complicated, opaque and highly controlled process by which power is transferred in China.

At the end of the congress a new leader will be announced who will be set to rule one fifth of the world's population for the next 10 years.

That man will almost certainly be Xi Jinping. He will be installed as the new general secretary of the Communist Party, and therefore by default, the new head of state and president.

Very few people know who Mr Xi is, what he is like, what he stands for and in what direction he will take the world's most populous nation.

Security across the Chinese capital has been tight ever since the date of the Congress was announced two weeks ago. Among the sea of red flags and Communist Party banners in Tiananmen Square are significant numbers of security officials.

As well as regular police, military police and plain-clothes officers, the Communist Party has the support of an estimated 1.4 million volunteers recognisable by their red armbands.

The sale of knives has been suspended along with remote-control planes and helicopters.

There are reports that bus companies and taxi drivers have been ordered to seal their vehicle windows shut to stop protesters from distributing anti-government flyers on Beijing's traffic-clogged streets.

During Hu's "golden decade" as leader, China has become the world's second largest economy. In 2002 it had a gross domestic product (GDP) of \$1.45trn (£900bn), smaller than that of the UK. Today its GDP stands at \$7.3trn (£4.5trn).

But with the quite remarkable economic growth have come significant problems.

Culturally and socially the country has moved very little. Rampant corruption is a huge issue. The gap between the rich and the poor has widened significantly and industrialisation has produced environmental problems on a devastating scale.

Take all these factors together and then combine them with a population which is much more technologically connected and geographically mobile than it was 10 years ago and the result could be extremely tricky for the incoming leadership team.

That new team, the "Standing Committee", will be revealed at the end of the Congress next Wednesday. The identity of the seven members - it is to be reduced by two - will not be confirmed until they walk onto the stage of the Great Hall.