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China's Communist Party Celebrates 90th Anniversary

President Hu Jintao delivers a speech during the celebration of the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party in Beijing.

President Hu Jintao delivers a speech during the celebration of the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party in Beijing.

China's ruling Communist Party has celebrated its 90th anniversary, in a lavish ceremony in Beijing.

Beijing's cavernous Great Hall of the People was decked for the occasion with banners, flowers, and above the stage a giant placard reading 1921 – 2011.

As the hundreds of delegates from across China filed in to take their seats, they could not help but be aware of the incredible changes their party has seen since it was founded in Shanghai.

From a revolutionary party which fought the then ruling Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek, went on to form a tenuous united front with him to fight the Japanese occupation of China, then resumed war with the Nationalists only to finally triumph in 1949, the coming to power of China's Communist Party was an extraordinary saga by any measure.

But the fact that it still remains in power today, long after almost all other communist regimes worldwide have crumbled, is perhaps its most extraordinary feat of all.

Today – as the nationally broadcast celebration in the Great Hall was meant to underline – the party remains in full and single-handed control of China with no rival parties in sight.

President Hu Jintao paid tribute to the party's longevity as he made the keynote speech.

Calling the party – which is the world's largest political grouping with 80 million registered members – the expression of the Chinese people's will, he vowed it would stick with its founding values.

"To develop the socialist democratic political system, we must stick to the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics," Hu said. "It is crucial that we stick to three principles: maintaining the leadership of the party, making sure the people are the decision-makers, and ruling the country according to its law."

Hu acknowledged there had been mistakes "in some historical periods," an apparent reference to the campaigns and policies that led to tens of millions of deaths in the early decades of communist rule. But he said the party had learned from those mistakes.

Many Current Challenges

If congratulations for the party's success to date filled the air, the gathering also took note of the many current challenges the party faces due to China's own economic rise over recent decades.

That rise, which has come with the party's own encouragement of private businesses and capital-driven commerce in China, has also transformed Chinese society, creating not just new wealth but restiveness with China's authoritarian system.

Hu paid heed to that as he spoke about the need to maintain "stability" as one of the great challenges lying ahead.

"Development is the top priority, stability is our major responsibility. If we don't have stability, we cannot achieve anything, and the achievements we have already made would be lost," he said. "Not only must all comrades in the party keep this in mind, but we must also guide all the people to bear this in mind."

He also urged the party delegates to root out corruption, calling it one of the greatest threats to maintain popular confidence in the government.

"We still face a grave struggle against corruption. The task is still arduous," Hu said. "If corruption is not effectively tackled, the party will lose the confidence and support of the people. The entire party must be on high alert and fully understand the long-term nature, complexity, and difficulty of our efforts to combat corruption."

Hu's warning comes as the Communist Party leadership recently unleashed a barrage of policies aimed at subduing price rises while trying to keep the economy aloft.

At the same time, in the run-up to today's anniversary, authorities have launched a crackdown on dissent following Internet calls for Arab-style "Jasmine protests" in China. The crackdown has included arrests and detentions of dissidents, human rights lawyers, and activists.

So far, this combined strategy of iron-fisted rule, state control of major economic power centers, and encouragement of private enterprise have proven a successful formula for keeping the party as firmly in power today as it has ever been in the past.

The challenge for China in the future, however, will be to keep the country's rising tide of wealth growing at a pace sufficient to outpace rising demands among poor people for a greater share of wealth and from ordinary people at all levels for a greater voice in government.

Ironically, it is exactly those demands that originally propelled the Chinese Communist Party to power. Today, 90 years later, they now represent the greatest potential threat to its future power.

compiled from agency reports