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Very Little Known About New Chinese Communist Leader - 2002-11-15

China's Communist Party has named Vice President Hu Jintao as its new leader. Very little is known about the man who will guide China through the massive economic and social challenges to come.

In a brief, televised speech at the Great Hall of the People Friday, Hu Jintao, the newly-named leader of China's Communist Party, pledged to continue with the market reforms that have transformed the country over the past two decades.

59-year-old Mr. Hu promised that he and the eight other newly-appointed top leaders would unite more closely with the rest of the Party and people of all ethnic groups to develop the economy. Mr. Hu said he would continue to push forward China's policy of reform, opening-up to the world and modernization.

Mr. Hu said he firmly believed that China's future would be more splendid than the past, and that China's continued progress would also contribute to peace and prosperity in the rest of the world.

Mr. Hu's bland public remarks were typical. Little is known about his political agenda, although most analysts believe he is committed to China's increased integration into the global economy. Like his predecessor, Jiang Zemin, he is expected to inherit the post of president of the country as well as head of the Communist Party.

Wu Guoguang, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and former party official, says that, Mr. Hu, like other members of his so-called "fourth generation" of leaders, reaped the benefits of China's economic reform policies of the past 24 years. Mr. Hu is therefore likely to continue with those reforms.

But politically, Mr. Hu has kept an extremely low profile, making it difficult to label him either a liberal or a conservative.

In 1992, he was hand-picked by then-Paramount Leader Deng Xiaoping to be the youngest member of the Politburo Standing Committee, China's most powerful governing body.

Mr. Hu earned his political stripes in the poverty-stricken and remote provinces of Gansu and Guizhou. His most important mentor was a conservative party elder, Song Ping, who helped Mr. Hu rise rapidly through the communist hierarchy.

Mr. Hu presided over the suppression of anti-government protests in Tibet while he was party chief there from 1988 to 1992. For this, many Tibet activists denounce him as a hardline conservative.

Yet others view Mr. Hu as a liberal because of reforms he introduced to the Central Party School in Beijing, the training ground for up-and-coming Communist Party officials. Under his guidance, the school began to debate ways to modernize the Party, to avoid the fate of socialism in Eastern Europe.

Most observers say the fact that Mr. Hu remains a mystery to so many, is responsible for his survival in the Machiavellian world of Chinese Communist politics.

He will define himself to the world by the way he handles the massive challenges facing China in the near future: millions of workers are being laid-off from failing state enterprises, unrest is rising over the widening gap between rich and poor, environmental disasters are looming, and China's entry to the World Trade Organization is expected to bring many wrenching social changes.