By GILLIAN WONG, Associated Press
BEIJING (AP) — President Hu Jintao stepped aside as ruling party leader Wednesday to clear the way for Vice President Xi Jinping to take China's helm as part of only the second orderly transfer of power in 63 years of Communist rule.
In a possible break from tradition, Hu may also be giving up his post as head of the commission that oversees the military, which would give Xi greater leeway to consolidate his authority when he takes over. A top general indicated Hu would not stay on in the military post.
Hu and other senior leaders mostly in their late 60s are handing over power to leader-in-waiting Xi and other colleagues in their late 50s over the next several months. The new leadership faces daunting challenges including slowing growth in the world's No. 2 economy, rising unrest among increasingly assertive citizens and delicate relations with neighboring countries.
In keeping with the widely anticipated succession plans, Hu was not re-elected a member of the party's Central Committee on the final day of a pivotal party congress, showing that he's no longer in the political leadership.
Delegates said they cheered when the announced results of secret balloting showed that Xi had been unanimously chosen for the committee, a step toward being named to the topmost panel, the Politburo Standing Committee, and becoming party leader as expected on Thursday. Li Keqiang, designated as the next premier, also was elected to the Central Committee of 205 full members.
"We were very happy, and the whole assembly responded with warm applause," said delegate Si Zefu, president of the Dongfang Electric Corp. based in the central city of Chengdu.
Previous outgoing leaders, including former President Jiang Zemin, have held onto the military post for a transitional period to extend their grip on power. Asked by Hong Kong reporters if Hu would retain his chairmanship of the military commission, Zhang Qinsheng, deputy chief of general staff of the People's Liberation Army, said the central leadership "had no such arrangements."
Zhang Lifan, an independent scholar in Beijing, said relinquishing all posts would be Hu's contribution to China's political reform.
"It will be an important political legacy, as he will break the bad tradition of holding onto power by outgoing officials," he said.
As the final day of the secretive, weeklong congress drew to a close in the Great Hall of the People, and after reporters were invited in to watch the proceedings, Hu reminded party leaders of the "glorious mission and heavy responsibilities" entrusted to them.
"We must strive to be role models, bring out our best in working for the cause of the party and the country," he said.
Sitting on the dais of leaders next to Hu was his predecessor, the 86-year-old Jiang, who has emerged as a key power-broker, maneuvering his allies into the leadership at the expense of Hu. Jiang had to be helped up by attendants when congress members stood for the Communist anthem, the Internationale. Afterward, Jiang turned to Hu and shook hands before being escorted offstage.
Hu later picked up some papers, shook hands with people in the row behind him and walked off the stage.
The party's 2,200-plus delegates also rubber-stamped the report Hu delivered last week committing the party to continuing a pro-economic growth agenda while retaining firm political control. Hu urged stronger measures to rein in corruption and make the government more responsive to public demands, but offered little in the way of specifics.
The next lineup of China's most powerful body, the Politburo Standing Committee, will be announced on Thursday. Though congress and Central Committee delegates have some influence over leadership decisions, most of the lineup is decided among a core group of the most powerful party members and elders.