The Chinese Communist Party Congress is convening for its quinquennial meeting to determine the new leadership in a country ruled under a single-party system since 1949.
Hu said the party should appoint officials on merit, professional competence and those who enjoy popular support.
In his report to the congress, Hu said the new leadership should "play to the strength" of a socialist political system.
"We will never copy a Western political system," he was quoted by the official Xinhua news agency as saying.
He said reform, however, is an important part of China's political structure, calling on Communist leaders to pay closer attention to the voice of the people. The socialist path, however, would allow the country to advance "with Chinese characteristics," he said.
This year's 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China will see a once-in-a-decade change in the leadership of the world's second-largest economy.