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Talks Begin in Key China Congress

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Talks begin in key China congress

ASSOCIATED PRESS

BEIJING, Nov. 9 — A day after President Jiang Zemin outlined his blueprint for China’s future, Communist Party delegates sequestered themselves Saturday to tackle their most important task - choosing the leaders who will guide the world’s most populous country through coming decades of change.

MORE THAN 2,000 delegates from across China have descended on the capital for the party congress, a weeklong gathering held every five years. As the congress entered its second day, most delegates disappeared from public view as closed-door meetings began.

The top issue: choosing new members of the party’s Central Committee.

“Talks are under way now about personnel changes,” said Tan Li, a delegate from the southwestern province of Sichuan. “It’s going to take some time. It’s not easy.”

The committee, which now has 193 members, will in turn appoint the elite Politburo and its inner sanctum, the all-powerful Standing Committee. All but one of the seven current committee members are expected to retire.

JIANG’S SUCCESSOR

The Central Committee will also anoint the successor of Jiang, who is expected to step down as party general secretary, China’s most powerful job, at the end of this congress. He is also expected to resign as president in March after sealing his legacy — inviting entrepreneurs to join the party.

Most of the few delegates who did appear outside conference rooms refused to answer questions from reporters. But some confirmed the intense negotiations by high-ranking party members in the inner chambers of the Great Hall of the People, an enormous building facing Beijing’s central Tiananmen Square.

NEW GENERATION OF LEADERS

The party is expected to usher in a new generation of leaders, many in their 50s, to replace Jiang, 76, and his contemporaries. The wide favorite to replace him as both party secretary and president is the 59-year-old vice president, Hu Jintao.

The leadership change will be the first orderly turnover of power in the history of the party, which took over China in 1949. Deng Xiaoping put his opponents on trial after Mao Zedong’s 1976 death, and Jiang rose in the chaotic aftermath of the bloody 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.

Hu and other younger leaders will likely stick to what the party calls “socialism with Chinese characteristics” — a hybrid of central planning and private industry that has lifted living standards but left tens of millions unemployed.

Powerful regional players including the Shanghai party secretary Huang Ju are expected to be brought into the central leadership. Jiang and other current leaders also appear to be trying to fill top slots with their supporters to retain influence.

In Washington, a former U.S. ambassador to China said Jiang would continue to wield power behind the scenes after he retires and seek to maintain one of his crowning achievements — friendly ties with the United States.

“Jiang Zemin sees as his legacy a good relationship with the United States,” Winston Lord told a seminar Friday at the Nixon Center, a private research group in Washington, D.C., named for the former president who ended a U.S. diplomatic freeze on mainland China in 1971.

WELL-SCRIPTED DISCUSSIONS

In another sign of the intense deal-making under way in the Great Hall, top provincial party officials were noticeably absent from public discussions held by a handful of regional delegations Saturday.

The discussions were all carefully scripted affairs at which delegates rhapsodized about Jiang’s vision for China’s and the party’s future, laid out in an opening-day speech.

“Secretary General Jiang’s report was a really great report,” said Guangdong Gov. Lu Ruihua. “This really answers a lot of our party’s questions about who we are and where we are going.”

Jiang told a cavernous meeting hall filled with 2,114 delegates that China aims to quadruple the size of its economy by 2020 by further privatizing state-owned companies and opening to international markets. Jiang’s speech also cited a litany of social problems facing China, including a growing divide between rich and poor and rampant corruption among party elite.

Some delegates said they were using the congress to press the central leadership to offer more than just speeches.

“Unemployment has to be addressed,” said Wang Jiezong, a delegate from the poor northern region of Ningxia. “It damages the foundation of the party.”

Outside the Great Hall on Saturday, police dragged away a man who appeared to be a protester. An Associated Press photographer who took pictures of the event was detained by police and released one hour later after police forced him to erase the pictures from his digital camera.

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