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Will New Chinese Leadership Make Changes in Policy? - 2002-11-15

China's ruling Communist Party has chosen a new generation of leaders, headed by 59-year-old Hu Jintao. Sweeping away the old generation is not likely to bring any major changes in policy.

China's Communist Party Congress named Hu Jintao as General Secretary of the Party, effectively making him China's top leader.

At Friday's ceremony in a huge and ornate room in the Great Hall of the People, Mr. Hu thanked the party for its trust.

It was his first step in the process of taking power from the current President, 76-year-old Jiang Zemin, who will also turn over the presidency to Mr. Hu next spring. However, Mr. Jiang retains his position as the head of the powerful Central Military Commission.

Mr. Hu now heads the nine-member "Standing Committee" of the Party's Politburo, which makes most important decisions in China. A majority of the new committee members are supporters of Mr. Jiang, making it likely they will continue his policies of moving toward a modern market economy.

In a far-reaching change of philosophy, the congress also accepted President Jiang's idea of opening the Party to business people. The move angered some of the old guard, but Mr. Jiang hopes it will help keep the Party relevant as the country integrates more fully into the global economy. Despite the party's philosophical concession, analysts do not expect changes under Mr. Hu to the party's dominant political role.

There were a large number of retirements this week, as a rule banning appointment of members over 70 years old was enforced.

In general, the new leaders are in their 50s, and better educated than their predecessors. Many have made their careers as technocrats, deeply enmeshed in the details of building an advanced economy.

Analysts say this new generation of leaders is cautious and values stability, after seeing its own education and careers disrupted in the 1960s and '70s by the chaos of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.

That desire to preserve stability may have played a large role in the most orderly Chinese leadership transition since imperial times.

Professor Su Hao, Vice President of the Foreign Affairs College in Beijing says a smooth transition shows a maturing of Communist Party politics.