BEIJING — China's ruling Communist Party opened a congress Thursday to usher in a new group of younger leaders faced with the challenging tasks of righting a flagging economy and meeting public calls for better government.
The weeklong congress starts a carefully choreographed power transfer in which President Hu Jintao and most of the senior leadership will begin to relinquish office to leaders for the coming decade headed by the appointed heir, Vice President Xi Jinping.
Delegates filed into Beijing's Great Hall of the People, bedecked with red banners. The 2,268 delegates are drawn from the 82 million-member party where the real dealmaking is done by a few dozen power-brokers behind the scenes, even as China is ever more connected to the world.
"We are faced with unprecedented opportunities for developments as well as risks. The party must keep in mind the trust of the people," Hu said in a speech aimed at summarizing successes of the past five years and outlining challenges for the future. "The fight against corruption remains a serious challenge."
China's old model of state-directed growth that lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty and made China an economic powerhouse is sputtering amid rising domestic debt and a weak global economy. Meanwhile, the public expects higher living standards, and less government corruption and greater accountability, if not outright democracy.
Whether the new leaders want to move China in a new direction is not known. One thing the party appears to be ruling out is a major shift toward a more open, democratic system, despite appeals from retired party members and government think tanks.