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China Completes Leadership Transition - 2003-03-16

China has put the finishing touches on its sweeping leadership transition with the selection of a new Prime Minister. China's new Vice President, Zeng Qinghong announced the selection of 60-year-old Wen Jiabao as Prime Minister.

Mr. Wen replaced the retiring Zhu Rongji and will have the difficult job of guiding China's economy as it continues the transition from a communist planned economy to a market oriented one.

The change has brought roaring economic growth, but also forced closure of many uneconomic state-owned companies that have thrown tens-of-millions of people out of work. China's farmers are also leaving the land by the millions, seeking work in the cities.

Political and economic experts say one of Mr. Wen's key tasks is to help private companies grow and create enough new jobs for the mass of displaced workers. He is expected to focus on reforming the country's troubled banking system to unblock investment needed to help expand employment. Mr. Wen's selection is the last major leader to be appointed at this National People's Congress.

Saturday, Hu Jintao became the new President of China replacing 76-year old Jiang Zemin. Mr. Hu already had China's top job as head of the Communist Party, but becoming head of state adds to his power and prestige.

But former President Jiang is not completely leaving power. He is keeping his job as head of China's politically-active military. Mr. Jiang can continue to influence foreign affairs and other matters from behind the scenes in his role as military chief, and through the allies that he has maneuvered into key roles in top party and government jobs.

Scholars who study China say this leadership transition is the smoothest since the Communist Party took power in 1949.