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BEIJING - There may be no better time than today to observe how China will change in the future, as the Communist Party of China (CPC) is gearing up for a key meeting that will see a once-in-a-decade leadership transition in the world's most populous nation.
In a year of global elections, the world is closely scrutinizing the 18th CPC National Congress, to be convened on Nov 8, and waiting to see how it will stand up to challenges facing the country and the CPC, as well as how it will influence the world at large.
After more than three decades of rapid growth thanks to the reform and opening-up drive, China has ushered in an important era of transition in which the country must transform its economy and make it more sustainable.
No matter how one views the event, the CPC's 18th National Congress comes at a critical time for China, as the leadership it selects and the decisions it makes will have a profound impact on the world's second-largest economy, and more importantly, on its people.
The Chinese have experienced many such critical moments in the past century, during which time incredible changes occurred in the country and the CPC itself.
One apparent distinction is that the CPC has grown incredibly large, with the number of members exploding from about 50 when the Party was founded in 1921 to more than 82 million on the eve of the CPC 18th National Congress, a number equivalent to the entire population of Germany.
Since it became the ruling party in 1949, the CPC has suffered twists and turns, such as the self-inflicted Cultural Revolution (1966-76), but managed to restore China's economic strength in the global arena through reform and the introduction of a market economy.
Over the past decade, China has become the world's fastest growing economy, with an average annual growth of 10.7 percent from 2003 to 2011, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics. China took up about 10 percent of the world's gross domestic product while contributing more than one-fifth of global growth last year.
Yet unprecedented challenges are still ahead for the CPC, even though its top leadership has defined the current transition period as a time that is full of strategic opportunities to build China into a prosperous society by 2020.
The CPC 18th National Congress comes at a time when the economy is facing mounting downward pressure after three decades of almost two-digit growth.
The era of ultra-high economic growth will soon be fading in China, where policymakers will have to get used to an economy that expands by about 8 percent annually, according to a study conducted by a research team from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a government think tank.
But the most pressing issue for the Chinese public is the uninhibited and widespread abuse of power and corruption among government officials and businessmen. A series of systematic and structural problems that have impeded the healthy development of the Chinese economy and society have yet to be resolved.
Addressing problems that concern the people's vital interests and giving more respect to the will of the people in making policies will continue to be a challenge for the CPC.
Challenges have also appeared from outside, as the external environment has never been as complicated as it is now.
Due to the deepening of the sovereign debt crisis and massive economic restructuring that occurred after the global financial crisis, developed economies may sink into long-term recession, thus creating new uncertainties and posing increasing risks for emerging economies like China.
While maintaining the continuity of its policies, China must also adjust its relations with major powers, developing countries and neighboring countries according to the latest changes in the global situation. Any change in China will inevitably affect the rest of the world in an era of economic globalization.
All of these problems and challenges will have to be addressed when the CPC's 18th National Congress is convened.
Hopefully, the CPC will draw lessons from its past successes and failures and establish a future direction for the country through resolutions on ideology-building, political routes and personnel management.
When the Congress opens, people inside and outside China should closely watch the country's new leaders, as what they say and do may signal the beginning of great changes in China and the rest of the world.