China’s president Hu Jintao has stepped aside as ruling party leader to clear the way for vice president Xi Jinping to take over as part of only the second orderly transfer of power in 63 years of Communist rule.
In a possible break from tradition, Mr Hu may also be giving up his post as head of the commission that oversees the military, which would give Mr Xi greater leeway to consolidate his authority when he takes over. A top general indicated Mr Hu would not stay on in the military post.
Mr Hu and other senior leaders mostly in their late 60s are handing over power to leader-in-waiting Mr Xi and other colleagues in their late 50s over several months. They face daunting challenges including slowing growth in the world’s second biggest economy, rising unrest among increasingly assertive citizens and delicate relations with neighbours.
In keeping with the widely anticipated succession plans, Mr Hu was not re-elected a member of the party’s Central Committee on the final day, showing that he is no longer in the leadership.
Delegates said they cheered when the announced results of secret balloting showed that Mr Xi was to become party leader on Thursday.
China’s leadership transitions are always occasions for fractious backroom bargaining, but this one has been further complicated by scandals. In recent months, Bo Xilai, a rising star, was purged after his aide exposed that his wife had murdered British businessman Neil Heywood. An ally of Mr Hu’s was sidelined after his son died in a Ferrari he should not have been able to afford. And foreign media recently reported that relatives of Mr Xi and outgoing premier Wen Jiabao have amassed billions in secret bank accounts.