China's Communist party unveils new team
President Hu Jintao won a second five-year term as China's Communist party chief Monday, heading a new leadership lineup that features potential successors yet could invite a divisive battle to succeed him.
Overall, Hu emerged politically stronger from eight days of high-level political meetings and months of bargaining in the lead-up.
A party congress that wrapped up Sunday endorsed Hu's signature policy program to help the poor and saw the retirement of a key rival. A central committee meeting Monday elevated a Hu protege, Li Keqiang, into the leadership.
"We are fully aware of our difficult tasks and great responsibilities," Hu told reporters as he introduced the new nine-man Politburo standing committee, the party's most powerful body.
Yet the deals Hu struck became clearer with the inauguration of the new lineup of five holdovers from the last leadership and four newcomers.
Key positions that oversee law enforcement and internal party investigations were given to associates of his rivals. Another younger politician and potential competitor to Li was also promoted.
Hu's ability to manage this disparate coalition will determine how united the party is in dealing with tensions over a yawning gap between rich and poor at home and managing China's rising clout abroad so as not to anger the U.S. and other world powers.
If Hu is successful, he will be freer to boost spending on health, education and other services long-neglected in the headlong drive for economic growth. Otherwise, with his own retirement likely in five years, he could become a lame duck.
"Hu Jintao is a brilliant politician," said Cheng Li, a watcher of Chinese politics at Washington's Brookings Institution. But managing the new leadership "is a serious test."
In the months ahead, a crucial sign will be the relationship between the leadership's youngest members: Hu's protege of 20 years since their days in the Communist Youth League, the 52-year-old Li, and 54-year-old Xi Jinping, Shanghai's party secretary.
The son of a politically influential veteran revolutionary, Xi is less beholden to Hu and emerged in recent weeks as a compromise candidate for leaders who feared giving Hu too much sway.
In many respects, Xi and Li represent different camps, with Li identified with Hu's supporters drawn partly from the youth league and Xi with the traditional party elite and more prosperous coastal provinces.
Should the competition between Xi and Li get beyond Hu's control, "he'll be blamed," said Li, the politics watcher.
Monday's announcement of a new leadership lineup marks the end of months of often contentious in-house bargaining over high-level posts that saw Hu purge one Politburo member who had criticized Beijing's policies.
Hu gained a significant edge Sunday with the retirement of Vice-President Zeng Qinghong, a seasoned infighter, and two other members from the leadership.
Closing out a weeklong congress, the more than 2,200 delegates— national and provincial political and military elite— also endorsed amending the party's charter to include Hu's pet policy program, the "scientific outlook on development."
The program attempts to channel China's boisterous growth to better benefit rural areas, low-wage workers and migrants left out of the economic boom of recent years.