BEIJING -- Having stifled potential urban unrest for now, Chinese Communist Party leaders are turning their attention to shoring up their traditional base of support among the more than 800 million peasants in China's vast countryside.
Ending a five-day plenum in Beijing yesterday, the party's Central Committee called for stepped-up party-building and socialist education efforts in rural areas, as well as increased investment in rural economic development and critical water control systems.
The statement reflects "a concern that the government hasn't been paying enough attention to its silent majority, the peasants," a Western diplomat said. "The peasants haven't been causing them any trouble, and the party wants to keep it that way by reminding them that it is the source of their economic benefits."
The plenum decided that a key area of increased investment will be collective irrigation and water control systems, which have fallen into disrepair with the increasing privatization of Chinese agriculture in the 1980s.
Last summer's disastrous flooding throughout much of eastern China underscored the scope of the problem. For the party, it also raised the feared prospect of losing longtime rural support through neglect of an age-old concern.
The party plenum was the first since the fall of Soviet communism, and it may be the last before a major party congress next fall.
Top-level personnel changes had been rumored to be at issue in the plenum, but none were announced yesterday.
The plenum reaffirmed paramount leader Deng Xiaoping's historic agricultural reforms of 1978 that transformed China's countryside by breaking up its collective farms. Farmers responded to the new incentives by repeated record harvests that increased their average real income by about 70 percent in the last 12 years.
The party carried out its 1949 revolution mainly on the strength of its support among Chinese peasants.