China's leaders meet to plan economic future

Image caption,
Paramilitary guards ring the hall where Communist Party central committee members are meeting

China's ruling Communist Party is meeting in Beijing to draw up its next five-year plan for the economy.

The agenda is secret but analysts say that instead of seeking a high rate of economic growth, China's leaders want to close the gap between rich and poor and between coastal and inland areas.

Analysts will also be watching for signs of who will be China's next leader - due to take office in 2012.

The meeting comes amid renewed scrutiny of human rights in China.

Earlier this week, a letter signed by 23 Communist Party elders circulated calling for an end to restrictions on the freedom of speech.

The letter described China's censorship system as a "scandal" and an "embarrassment".

Their call came just days after the jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo - a champion for democracy in China - was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

A group of 100 activists in China has now signed a petition calling for his release.

There is speculation that political reform will even be on the meeting's agenda, after Premier Wen Jiabao recently issued a call for openness.

Mr Wen told US broadcaster CNN earlier this month that calls for "democracy and freedom [in China] will become irresistible".

In August, he said: "Without political reform, China may lose what it has already achieved through economic restructuring."

But in a sign of possible resistance to those calls, China's state media did not report them domestically.


Such unusually outspoken calls for political reform are the backdrop for this year's four-day Communist Party Congress.

Image caption,
The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize has sparked calls in China and abroad for Liu Xiaobo's release

Details of the meeting of the 300-member Central Committee are usually only released at its close.

State media said President Hu Jintao and Mr Wen are expected to attend the gathering "to discuss proposals for the nation's next five-year development plan" from 2011 to 2015.

China has seen remarkable economic growth in recent years - largely driven by exports.

The BBC's Martin Patience in Beijing says China wants to reduce the gap between rich and poor in order to prevent strikes and disputes over pay which have led to social unrest in the past.

Any instability worries the party because it challenges their authority across the country, our correspondent says.

Analysts will also be watching for signs that Vice-President Xi Jinping and Vice-Premier Li Keqiang - the presumed successors to Mr Hu and Mr Wen - will move closer to power in a reshuffle.

Around the BBC