BEIJING // Hu Jintao, China's outgoing president used his final speech as Communist Party secretary yesterday to warn that corruption could cause "the collapse of the party and the fall of the state".
Speaking on the first day of a week-long party congress that will end in with the unveiling of China's new leaders, Mr Hu avoided direct mention of the scandals that have rocked China's ruling party in recent years but acknowledged that graft was a cause of public dissatisfaction.
"Corruption is an important problem about which people care. If we fail to handle the issue corruption well, it could prove fatal to the party, and even cause the its collapse the fall of the state," he said to the applause of the 2,309 delegates and invited guests gathered in the Great Hall of the People.
Mr Hu, who has led China for last ten years, shied away from making any commitments to political reform, as some in the party hoped he might.
"We must uphold the leadership of the party," he said.
His ninety-minute speech - short by the standard of past congresses - covered the gamut of other issues including China's military, the economy, environment and sport.
Yet for most ordinary Chinese, it failed to address the problems that affect them most.
"I listened for twenty minutes and I didn't understand single word. Tax policy, employment, food safety or housing prices, none of these were mentioned," wrote one user on China's most popular Twitter-like service Weibo.
In his speech, Mr Hu stopped short of proposing specific measures to combat corruption.
But his speech comes after several high-profile corruption cases this year.
Last month, The New York Times reported that Premier Wen Jiabao's family had amassed at least $2.7 billion (Dh9b) fortune during his time in power, while other foreign media reported that the son of one of Mr Hu's top aides had been the driver killed in a mysterious Ferrari crash - a car he should not have been able to afford.
All this after party high-flyer Bo Xilai was removed from office in a scandal surrounding the death of British businessman Neil Heywood earlier this year. His wife Gu Kailai was later found guilty of Heywood's murder but Mr Bo is still being investigated for crimes allegedly discovered as part of the case.
In September, the Xinhua news agency said an internal party investigation had already found Mr Bo guilty of abuse of power and massive bribe-taking.
Mr Bo was being groomed for promotion to China's top governing body - the standing committee of the politburo - at this congress.
While Mr Hu did not mention Mr Bo by name he warned that "no one is above the law".
Netizens also took issue with the Soviet-inspired opening ceremony and the delegate's demeanour in general.
"Who teaches them to speak like and dress like that, when I watch them I feel like I have gone back in time," wrote one.
Though only a few of the delegates wore Mao suits, almost all the men wore similar looking black suits with white shirts and red ties.
Most women opted for red or pink jackets, unless they were representing one of China's 56 ethnic minorities in which case they were clad in full ethnic dress
The hall was decked in huge red banners urging delegates to "hold high the banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics", while the back wall of the stage from where Mr Hu gave his speech was decorated with ten red sculpted flags and a huge gold hammer and sickle—the symbol of Communist parties all over the world.
Senior party members arranged on the stage behind Mr Hu - including his predecessor and now political rival Jiang Zemin - were even provided with identical red pencils with which to make notes with.
Mr Hu and his premier Mr Wen are widely expected to be succeeded by 59 year-old Xi Jinping and 57-year-old Li Keqiang next week, but it is not yet known who else has also secured a position in the standing committee.
The presence of Mr Jiang on the stage in the centre of the front row suggests he has wielded a significant amount of power in the selection of the incoming leadership, analysts said.
"Jiang has gently dogged Hu for the last decade," said Kerry Brown, the executive director of the China Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, and Professor of Chinese Politics. "It shows how much effort has gone into keeping this succession reasonably smooth - whether it will confer much legitimacy, well, we'll see."