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China Makes Way for New Leaders

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China makes way for new leaders

NBC NEWS AND NEWS SERVICES

BEIJING, Nov. 14 — Facing an era of galloping change, China’s communists stepped into a new age Thursday, sending President Jiang Zemin toward retirement, pushing a younger generation of leaders forward and changing their mission to welcome the emerging capitalist class.

HU JINTAO, THE man expected to replace Jiang in the monumental task of running China in an era of rapid change, became the only top politician re-elected to the party’s ruling elite. It was the most solid sign yet of his ascent to the top of Asia’s largest, fastest-growing country.

The 59-year-old vice president is the odds-on favorite to succeed Jiang as head of the party — and as president in March — in the first truly orderly transfer of authority since the communists took China in 1949.

Today, though, the message of the party of Mao Zedong is not revolution but prosperity — and continued relevance in the eyes of an increasingly sophisticated citizenry.

“Each time at the national congress, we produce a tremendous new group of leaders. This shows that the Communist Party of China still retains enormous potential,” said Wang Xiaofeng, a delegate and the governor of Hainan, an island province off the southern coast.

NBC’s Eric Baculinao reported from Beijing that the Congress will mark a milestone in China for two most important achievements, according to analysts and observers. One, it has executed Communist China’s first orderly transfer of power, which also marks the rise of a stable technocratic leadership represented by Hu. Two, it has profoundly re-invented the Communist Party by opening its door to entrepreneurs or capitalists.

The changes were announced at the end of the National Party Congress, a high-profile meeting held once every five years inside the enormous Great Hall of the People in the heart of Beijing, on fabled Tiananmen Square.

Jiang, 76, closing the weeklong meeting and in effect starting four months of farewells, proclaimed it “a congress of unity, a congress of victory and a congress of progress.”

“All this,” he said, “will immensely encourage the whole party and Chinese people of all ethnic groups to keep pace with the times, blaze new trails in a pioneering spirit and continue confidently to propel the great cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics forward.”

HU’S ASCENT ON FRIDAY

China Central Television showed delegates filing past ballot boxes in a cavernous hall as they cast votes for the party’s Central Committee, which is expected to select the general secretary, the exclusive Politburo and its Standing Committee — the party’s inner circle of power — sometime Friday.

The party stressed renewal and energy. Of the new Central Committee’s 356 members and alternate members, 180 are new to the body and more than one-fifth are under 50 years old, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

Of course, it’s political as well: Jiang is believed to have shepherded his proteges onto the party’s next ruling body and into other high posts to retain influence.

The new generation inherits a country that has seen stunning growth in two decades of reform but faces increasing strains. Millions have lost jobs at state industries, and anger is rising about enduring rural and inland poverty as eastern cities boom.

Hu and his contemporaries will shepherd China through a period of dizzying economic change, propelled by the addition of Jiang’s capitalist-infused “Three Represents” doctrine to the party’s constitution.

The unwieldy moniker aims to demonstrate the party’s concern about all levels of society but is also code for the once-unthinkable idea of allowing capitalist entrepreneurs to join a party whose very founding was motivated by class struggle.

It has the added benefit of co-opting China’s growing ranks of business leaders and harnessing their power as the party’s own.

A most effusive statement of support has come from a representative of China’s burgeoning entrepreneurial class.

Zeng Wei, who at 39 is a well-established real estate tycoon, commended the transfer of power to a younger leadership. “We need young leaders like those in America or Russia, because they will prove to be more open and pragmatic in pushing China’s reform and integration with the world economy,” he told NBC News.

“I strongly support the party and see great hope for the future,” he said, “because it has truly become a ruling party that represents the whole society.” He described the party’s new policy of welcoming capitalists as “a novel, bold breakthrough. It shows that the communist party is keeping up with the times,” he said.

‘KEEPING PACE WITH TIMES’

The resolution, distributed after the closing ceremony, called implementation of the theory “the foundation for building our party, the cornerstone for its governance and the source of its strength.” In a nod to the party’s desire to cast itself as progressive, it also said the theory would help China “keep pace with the times.”

“It will do much to advance the great new undertaking of party-building,” Jiang said.

Though Jiang, general secretary of the Communist Party since he replaced Zhao Ziyang in a 1989 purge after the Tiananmen Square democracy protests, remains president until March, the party position is the wellspring of his power. His departure from it Thursday makes his retirement as president certain.

Xinhua said Jiang was not on the list of those re-elected, indicating his expected retirement from a formal party role.

“Jiang Zemin, the core of the third-generation leadership of the Communist Party of China, and five of his colleagues in the party’s top decision-making body, are not on a new Central Committee of the CPC elected here this morning,” Xinhua said.

It specifically identified Hu as “the only member” of the last party congress’ Standing Committee to be re-elected.

Hu was designated as Jiang’s heir apparent by the late senior leader Deng Xiaoping, who also gave Jiang his job. Hu’s ascent has been widely expected, though little is known about him. He has taken on a higher profile in recent months and traveled to the United States in the spring, a signal that he was being readied.

According to James McGregor, a veteran China analyst and business consultant, the fact that most people in Beijing or in China are going on with their lives and not paying much attention to the party Congress is “a sign of progress.” “That people can be apathetic to politics only means that politics no longer control their everyday lives,” he told NBC News.

McGregory predicted that the rise of Hu will mean stability. “He will be dependable for the party, who will not pull in any surprises or do things too radical, and who will follow the policies of the past twenty years,” he said.

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