President Hu Jintao has warned China's incoming leaders that corruption threatens the ruling Communist Party and the state, but said the party must stay in charge as it battles growing social unrest.
In a state-of-the-nation address to more than 2,000 hand-picked party delegates before he hands over power, Hu on Thursday acknowledged that public anger over graft and issues like environmental degradation had undermined the party's support and led to surging numbers of protests.
"Combating corruption and promoting political integrity, which is a major political issue of great concern to the people,
is a clear-cut and long-term political commitment of the party," Hu said.
"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. We must thus make unremitting efforts to combat corruption."
Hu was opening a week-long congress at Beijing's Great Hall of the People that will usher in a once-in-a-decade leadership change in the world's second-largest economy.
He promised political reform, but only to a degree, saying: "We will never copy a Western political system."
"We will neither walk on the closed and rigid road, nor will we walk down the evil road of changing [our] flags and banners," Hu said.
During the week-long meeting, Hu will give up his role as party chief to Vice President Xi Jinping , his 59-year-old anointed successor who will take over state duties at the annual meeting of parliament in March.
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Richard McGregor, an author on China, told Al Jazeera that "Xi is no liberal, he is the creature of the party and will keep the status quo.
"The problem with China is that corruption is institutionalised, and because China is a one-party state, there are no independent bodies to check corruption."
The run-up to the congress meeting has been overshadowed by a corruption scandal involving politician Bo Xilai, once a contender for a position on the top leadership.
The party has accused him of taking bribes and abusing his power to cover up his wife's murder of a British businessman in the southwestern city of Chongqing, which he used to run.
While Hu did not name Bo in his speech, he left little doubt about the target.
"All those who violate party discipline and state laws, whoever they are and whatever power or official positions they
have, must be brought to justice without mercy," Hu told delegates.
"Leading officials, especially high-ranking officials, must ... exercise strict self-discipline and strengthen education and
supervision over their families and their staff; and they should never seek any privilege."
The New York Times said last month that the family of Premier Wen Jiabao had accumulated at least $2.7bn in "hidden riches", a report China labelled a smear.