China leaders start key economic 'reform' summit

BEIJING (AFP) - China's ruling Communist Party began a key meeting on Saturday to dictate the direction of the world's second-biggest economy for the next decade.

The official Xinhua news agency said the gathering of the party Central Committee would discuss a draft document on "major issues concerning comprehensively deepening reforms" in the Chinese economy, a key driver of regional and global growth.

The meeting, known as the Third Plenum and which takes place amid intense security and secrecy, has traditionally set the economic tone for a new government, and past meetings have been used to signal far-reaching changes. Recent reports in party and state media have singled out key issues at the four-day meeting as potentially including land and administrative reforms, as well as reducing protections for powerful state-owned enterprises.

A government think-tank, meanwhile, called for dismantling the residency registration system known as "hukou", which restricts access to medical insurance and other benefits for migrants.

China also faces important issues including oppressive air and environmental pollution, and how to retool its economy to ensure more sustainable growth.

The meeting comes a year after China embarked on a once-a-decade leadership transition, with Mr Xi Jinping taking over as party general secretary before becoming state president in March this year.

Although the economy is no longer completely party- and state-controlled, the ruling body holds huge sway, with officials in charge of key elements, such as the exchange rate, that in other countries are left mostly to markets.

Xinhua said the party draft document "pools the wisdom of the whole party and from all aspects" and is expected "to advance the reform that has lasted for more than three decades".

The agency, however, reported no concrete details.