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New Generation Of Leaders To Take Over At China's Party Congress

Tourists walk through Tiananmen Square on the eve of the Chinese Communist Party Congress to elect a new leader in Beijing.
Major changes to China's leadership are expected when the ruling Communist Party holds its 18th National Congress in Beijing beginning on November 8.

The new leadership is likely to rule for a decade, says Rod Wye, an expert on Chinese politics at Chatham House in London.

"It's a big changeover at the very top. [President] Hu Jintao and [Premier] Wen Jiabao are leaving after 10 years in the leading positions in China and the new leadership taking their place will probably also be in place for 10 years," Wye says.

"Around them, there will be really substantial changes in the Chinese leadership. So it marks the possibility of major change in the people directing China."

Most analysts expect Vice President Xi Jinping and First Vice Premier Li Keqiang to be promoted to the Communist Party's top posts. Xi is expected to become the party's next general secretary before taking over the presidency in March 2013. Li is expected to become premier.

Wye thinks they will be the only current members of the nine-member Politburo Standing Committee to remain on the powerful ruling body, which he describes as the "core of the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.

As he notes, the other seven member of the committee "have passed the accepted age for retirement -- the age of 65. So that leaves only two -- Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang -- who are going to be the core of the new leadership. That in itself is unusual for China, that so many of the top leaders change at one time, which I think is a bit disconcerting for them."

Wye predicts hundreds of officials in other party posts also will be replaced. "What will happen at this congress in terms of personnel changes is there will be a new Central Committee elected. And that's about 230-odd people, with alternate members of about 150 to 170. Of those, I suspect around half will retire or be replaced," he says.

"And then there are all the various offices of the party. There's the Politburo itself. Then there's the Secretariat of about six or seven people who manage the day-to-day work of the leadership," he adds. "Then there is the Discipline Inspection Commission and its leaders, who will also be reelected at this stage, and then the Central Military Commission and its leaders."

The state-run Xinhua news agency has already announced the appointment of army General Fan Changlong and air force General Xu Qilang as vice chairmen of the Central Military Commission. But Xinhua has not given any indication whether President Hu would step down from his post as chairman of the military commission.

Concealed Factional Struggles

China's new leadership will have to deal with growing public discontent over allegations of corruption at all levels of the Communist Party -- from local officials to the very top.

This week an internal investigation reportedly was launched at Premier Wen's request into a report by "The New York Times" that Wen's family has accumulated a hidden fortune of $2.7 billion.

The state-run "China Daily" newspaper said this week that the Chinese people want to see "more resolve and efficiency in fighting corruption." It noted that 660,000 party members have been punished for violations during the past five years.

PHOTO GALLERY: Scenes before, during, and around the congress as China prepares for what is expected to be the most important political meeting in a decade

It also praised the recent expulsion from the party of Bo Xilal, a former Politburo member and party head of Chongqing who is accused of both corruption and complicity in the murder of a British businessman.

Kenneth Pomeranz, a University of Chicago history professor, doubts that factional rifts within the Communist Party over Bo are likely to surface until after the 18th Congress.

"I suspect that there is still factional fighting going on. But it is like people wrestling under a blanket. From the outside, all you can see is that there is wrestling going on. You can't see who is wrestling who," Pomeranz says.

"Nobody at this point is going to try to put Bo back into a position of influence. Not in the short term," he adds. "But clearly, there were people who were closer to him and people who were always hostile to him and some of those divisions have to still be there. I'm sure they've been, for the time being, put on the back burner. But people have memories."

The new leadership will also have to deal with the crucial domestic issues of how to bolster the economy's slowing growth rate and how to deal with massive environmental problems that have accompanied China's rapid modernization.