Continuity was the guiding principle of the Chinese Communist Party’s 17th Party Congress, which concluded last week in Beijing. The conclave agreed to enshrine President Hu Jintao’s concept of “scientific development” in the party’s constitution, a step that elevates his thinking to the level of official orthodoxy, along with that of Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin. It is also clear from the new Central Committee that Mr. Hu is not the all-powerful leader of the past. He is first among equals. China is now run by a consensus among leaders. That bodes well for moderation but also suggests that the leadership may be unable to change course if circumstances require.

Party congresses lay out doctrinal and rhetorical guideposts for China’s governance. The opening speech by President Hu hewed closely to the principles that have guided his tenure. Continuing strong growth remains the government’s top priority, but Mr. Hu has insisted on a better balance between growth and environmental and social responsibility. Double-digit growth has created great wealth, but it has also yielded extraordinary disparities within China, as well as pollution nightmares. He called for the party to embrace “balanced and sustainable” output, which will help protect the weakest members of Chinese society as well as reduce the damage done by breakneck economic growth. This commitment has been a hallmark of Mr. Hu’s administration and has served to distinguish his policies from those of his predecessors.

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