Communists conclude party Congress in China

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BEIJING -- Moving to complete only its second smooth leadership transition in more than six decades of rule, the Chinese Communist Party ended a weeklong conclave Wednesday as its departing general secretary, Hu Jintao, prepared to hand the reins of power to Xi Jinping, son of a revered revolutionary guerrilla leader who was also an architect of China's economic transformation.

For this nation of 1.3 billion, the leadership transition culminates a particularly tumultuous period plagued by scandals and intense political rivalry that presented the party with some of its greatest challenges since the student uprising of 1989.

This morning, after a confirmation vote by the party's new Central Committee, Mr. Xi, 59, is expected to march onto a stage at the Great Hall of the People accompanied by at least six other party officials who will form the Politburo Standing Committee, the elite group that makes crucial decisions on the economy, foreign policy and other major issues.

"I think the emphasis is on continuity over change this time around," said Bo Zhiyue, a scholar of Chinese politics at the National University of Singapore.

The ascension of Mr. Xi and other members of the "red nobility" to the top posts means that China's princelings, the children of notable Communist officials, have come into their own as a powerful political force. Because of their parentage, they believe themselves to be the heirs of the revolution that succeeded in 1949, endowed with a mandate of authority.

Several political insiders say Mr. Hu, 69, is also likely to hand over the post of civilian chairman of the military to Mr. Xi, which would be the first time since the promotion of the ill-fated Hua Guofeng in 1976 that a Chinese leader has taken office at the same time as head of the party and military. That would give Mr. Xi a stronger base from which to consolidate his power, even as he grapples with party elders' continuing influence.

Mr. Xi is facing a growing chorus of calls from Chinese elites to support greater openness in China's economic and political systems, which critics say have stagnated in the last decade under Mr. Hu, despite the country's emergence as the world's second-largest economy and a growing regional power.

Mr. Xi is known for shunning the spotlight and being a skilled consensus-builder. He spent his childhood in the leadership compounds of Beijing, but was forced to toil in a village of cave homes in the western Shaanxi province for seven years during the Cultural Revolution, when his father was purged.

His first job was as an aide to a top general; he rose through party ranks in the provinces, including Fujian and Zhejiang, two coastal regions known for entrepreneurship and exchanges with Taiwan. Mr. Xi's career and his family background have enabled him to build close personal ties to some military leaders as well. He is married to a well-known singer, Peng Liyuan; they have a daughter attending Harvard under a pseudonym.

As for the departing Mr. Hu, if he gives up the military chairman post, it could set an important institutional precedent for future successions and help put his legacy in a more favorable light. In Chinese politics, retired leaders try to maximize their influence well into old age, either by clinging to titles or by making their opinions known on important decisions.

Jiang Zemin, Mr. Hu's predecessor as party chief and president, did both: He held onto the military post for two years after giving up his party title in 2002, which led to heightened party friction. In recent months, he has worked to get his proteges installed on the Standing Committee, usually assembled through horse-trading by party elders and current leaders.

The committee is expected to be trimmed to seven members from the current nine. One reason for that change is that some party leaders, including Mr. Xi, believe that an overrepresentation of interests on the committee has led to gridlock in decision-making. The smaller committee would also mean a downgrading of the party post that controls the security apparatus, which some party officials asserted had grown too powerful.

Li Keqiang, a Hu protege, is expected to get a top-ranking committee seat today and the state title of prime minister next spring, when Mr. Xi becomes president. Mr. Li and Mr. Xi are the only members on the outgoing standing committee likely to remain part of the group.

The five favorites to join them in the new committee are Zhang Dejiang, party chief of Chongqing; Yu Zhengsheng, party chief of Shanghai; Liu Yunshan, director of the propaganda department; Zhang Gaoli, party chief of Tianjin; and Wang Qishan, a vice premier.

One princeling said earlier to be a contender for the committee, Bo Xilai, was felled last spring by a scandal after his wife was accused of murdering a British businessman.

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