China's president and five other top leaders are stepping down from their Communist Party posts, as a new generation steps in to take their place. The announcement comes during the closing session of the 16th Communist Party Congress. Delegates also amended China's constitution to officially invite entrepreneurs to become party members.
China's official Xinhua News Agency confirms that Chinese President Jiang Zemin is retiring as General Secretary of the Communist Party. That ends months of speculation over whether he and other aging rulers would hand power to a new generation. Five other members on the Politburo Standing Committee, which essentially runs China, also are stepping down. They include Parliament Chief Li Peng and Prime Minister Zhu Rongji.
Xinhua said Thursday that Vice-President Hu Jintao is the only top leader to be re-elected to the party's Central Committee. The Politburo Standing Committee members are selected from the Central Committee's 350 members. The announcement is the strongest indication yet that 59-year-old Mr. Hu will take over the party and government leadership from Mr. Jiang. According to China's constitution, Mr. Jiang must also step down as President next March.
Speaking before delegates at the close of the party congress, 76-year-old Mr. Jiang says the party's central leadership has successfully made the move from the old to the new.
Delegates to the Congress also have approved an amendment to the party's constitution, to incorporate Mr. Jiang's theory called the "Three Represents." The change broadens the party's membership to include private entrepreneurs, who were once reviled as enemies of the working class.
Observers say the formal adoption of Mr. Jiang's theory means he will continue to influence the party's direction, even after he retires. Mr. Jiang is also believed to have arranged for several of his key allies to be promoted to the Politburo Standing Committee. The Standing Committee members are expected to be announced Friday.
Shortly after the Congress ended Thursday, Chinese state television broadcast the names of some 350 new members and alternate members of the Central Committee. State media say that more than half of the old Central Committee members have stepped down, and more than a fifth of the new members are below age 50.
This year's Congress is responsible for one of the smoothest, most peaceful power changes in China in nearly a century. Unlike many past leadership changes, there has been no bloodshed, and no prominent politicians have been arrested, killed or disgraced in public.