BEIJING // Corruption within the Communist Party of China has increased because it has been in power so long, the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, said yesterday.
He warned that the party's survival and popular support depended upon the integrity of party officials.
Speaking at a meeting to mark the 90th anniversary of the founding of the party, Mr Hu also said there must be tougher punishments for those guilty of corruption.
China's one-party bureaucracy is acknowledged to be highly corrupt, and analysts have blamed crooked officials for everything from food contamination scandals to the bulldozing of ancient city areas.
"The party is soberly aware of the gravity and danger of corruption that have emerged under the conditions of the party being long in power," Mr Hu said in the Great Hall of the People, which is beside Tiananmen Square.
He warned "grave challenges" remained in fighting corruption and told officials they must only wield power in the interests of the public. Corruption could cost the party public support, he said.
Analysts have previously said however that the party's complete grip on power, and on investigations into corruption, make it difficult to weed out fraud.
Mr Hu said there should be more "intraparty democracy" and greater transparency, adding there had already been reforms such as ensuring positions were not awarded to senior officials for life.
There are no signs though that the CPC is edging towards multiparty democracy. While there are several non-communist parties in China, these are not genuine opposition organisations and only this week state media quoted officials as saying the creation of new parties was "unnecessary".
Yesterday's gathering to mark nine decades since the party's first congress in Shanghai in 1921 was the culmination of a series of initiatives to drum up interest in China's communist history.
Campaigns to encourage people to sing revolutionary "red songs" have been held and bookshops have set up displays of paperbacks featuring former leaders such as Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.
A star-studded film, Beginning of the Great Revival, recently arrived in cinemas and major Hollywood movies had their releases delayed to prevent them clashing with the big-budget epic.
However, with the film screened in multiple theatres, some showings have been far from full.
Despite the heavy build-up to the 90th anniversary, yesterday's meeting was comparatively restrained, with only a military band to provide entertainment, in stark contrast to the lavish celebrations in Tiananmen Square in 2009 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the communist takeover.
Yesterday, Mr Hu said China must continue to prioritise the economic transformation that has seen tens of millions of people taken out of poverty but has also led to China's becoming the world's largest producer of greenhouse gases.
He said "rapid development" was essential to improve prosperity, and made little mention of environmental issues, perhaps striking a different tone from the premier, Wen Jiabao, who earlier this year said China must not pursue GDP growth at the expense of the environment.
"We must continue to follow the strategic thinking that only development counts and firmly carry out the central task of economic development, and we should not waiver in the slightest in this pursuit," Mr Hu said.
The Chinese vice president, Xi Jinping, expected to take over as CPC general secretary next year and president in 2013, also gave a short speech yesterday.
The 90th anniversary was not an event average Chinese were likely to go out of their way to celebrate, said Dr Zhang Baohui, an associate professor of political science at Lingnan University in Hong Kong. However, he said most people recognised the party had made significant progress since beginning economic reforms.
"They probably would appreciate the party's overall achievement in the last 30 years, that China's unique model of reform has been relatively successful," he said.
"It's not free from problems, but most people think it's a largely successful model. However, most Chinese in their daily lives have more urgent needs - their job, their family, so I don't think ordinary Chinese people will pay a lot of attention to the celebrations."