CHINESE President Hu Jintao has warned that corruption could bring about the collapse of the Communist Party-state, after a year of staggering revelations about wealth amassed by China's leading families.

Mr Hu, delivering his last and most important speech after a decade as general secretary of the party, implored officials to rein in their families. But he stopped short of identifying new ways in which that could be done.

''If we fail to handle this issue well, it could prove fatal to the party, and even cause the collapse of the party and the fall of the state,'' Mr Hu said in his work report to the 2268 members of the new 18th Party Congress, which is the first stage of the largest leadership transition in the 63-year history of the People's Republic.

''All those who violate party discipline and state laws, whoever they are and whatever power or official positions they have, must be brought to justice without mercy,'' he said.

Mr Hu's speech is largely a consensus document that sticks closely to precedent and is designed to shore up his own legacy, as well as set parameters for his successor, Xi Jinping.

''All this shows the superiority and vitality of socialism with Chinese characteristics and has enhanced the pride and cohesiveness of the Chinese people and nation,'' Mr Hu said.

He mentioned the need for economic and political reform, but did not go further than earlier pledges that have thus far failed to be realised.

''We will never copy a Western political system,'' he said.

Mr Hu did, however, make a new call to build naval power in the wake of a series of heated and potentially dangerous maritime disputes with Japan and south-east Asian neighbours.

''We should enhance our capacity for exploiting marine resources, resolutely safeguard China's maritime rights and interests, and build China into a maritime power,'' he said.

A series of interwoven challenges affecting China's ''survival'' required the nation to build a ''strong national defence and powerful armed forces that are commensurate with China's international standing''.

He called for Beijing to step up military preparedness in general, and the armed forces' technological abilities in particular, saying China's most important task was to be able to ''win a local war in an information age''.

The final year of Mr Hu's decade at the helm of the party has been rocked by a series of scandals including the murder of Englishman Neil Heywood, which led to the fall of ambitious leader Bo Xilai.

Subsequent foreign media reports revealed staggering wealth accumulated by the families of Mr Bo, outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao and incoming leader Xi Jinping. While Mr Bo is set to face court next year, the party has responded to other revelations by blocking access to the news platforms that reported them.

''We are confronting unprecedented development opportunities and challenges,'' Mr Hu said. ''The gap between rich and poor is growing.''

The Congress, which will convene for a week, will ''elect'' a new Central Committee of about 200 people who will convene the first plenum meeting on about November 15.

That meeting will immediately anoint a new Politburo, of about 25 members, and also a seven or nine-member Standing Committee, which will form the real heart of power.

In reality, the make-up of the new leadership will be determined by powerbrokers making deals behind the scenes.