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China Names New Generation of Leaders - 2003-03-15

China has named a new generation of leaders to replace its aging Communist Party elders. Hu Jintao has been appointed President, replacing Jiang Zemin. But Mr. Jiang is likely to exert a strong influence on the country's policies for some time.

A spokesman for China's legislature, the National People's Congress, announced that 60-year-old Hu Jintao has been named China's new President, succeeding Jiang Zemin.

Mr. Hu's appointment comes as no surprise, as he has been groomed for a leadership position for at least a decade. He was appointed Communist Party chief last November during the 16th party congress.

But the 76-year-old Mr. Jiang is not retiring completely. The legislature's spokesman says Mr. Jiang has kept his post as head of the powerful Central Military Commission. Observers say that by maintaining control over the 2.5 million member People's Liberation Army, Mr. Jiang will be able to affect far more than defense policy. He is also likely to exert ongoing influence over China's foreign policy, including its important relationships with rival Taiwan and the United States.

As another indication of his continuing power, Mr. Jiang was able last November to pack the party's elite nine-member governing body, the Politburo Standing Committee, with six of his hand-picked people.

Mr. Jiang's closest ally, Zeng Qinghong, has been named Vice President. Some observers believe Mr. Zeng could become President Hu's greatest rival, potentially making it difficult for Mr. Hu to push through new policy initiatives. Wu Bangguo, another Jiang ally, has inherited the post of parliamentary chief from the outgoing party elder, Li Peng.

Until such time as President Hu consolidates his own power base, analysts say he will have to defer to the elderly Mr. Jiang and the men he has put into power. The National People's Congress meets again Sunday to appoint other new leaders. Wen Jiabao is expected to be named Prime Minister, replacing Zhu Rongji as the man to steer China's economy.

This leadership transition is considered the most orderly transfer of power since Communist rule began in 1949. The new generation of leaders has pledged to devote more resources to China's poor and unemployed masses, who have missed out on the rapid economic progress that has primarily benefited the large coastal cities.