Chinese parliament appoints new leadership

Cabinet consisting mainly of technocrats faced with slowing economy, as President Xi promises more efficient government.
Last Modified: 17 Mar 2013 04:05
President Xi Jinping, left, and Premier Li Keqiang, right, take over leadership of the government at a crucial time [EPA]

China's new political leadership has appointed veteran technocrats, many with strong international experience, to staff a cabinet charged with fixing a slowing economy, among other challenges.

The ceremonial legislature on Saturday approved nearly three dozen trusted politicians, experienced officials and career diplomats who make up the State Council under Premier Li Keqiang.

Keqiang was himself named by the parliament on Friday, and Xi Jinping was named president on Thursday.

The appointments largely complete a once-a-decade transfer of power to a new generation of Communist leaders.

During Sunday's proceedings to close the session, Xi promised a cleaner, more efficient government.

"In face of the mighty trend of the times and earnest expectations of the people for a better life, we cannot have the slightest complacency, or get the slightest slack at work,'' Xi told the nearly 3,000 delegates at the Congress' closing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in the heart of Beijing. 

The new leadership has stressed it will make a priority of social spending and other measures to spread prosperity more evenly and narrow a politically volatile gap between China's wealthy elite and poor majority, as well combat endemic corruption.

"We must resolutely reject formalism, bureaucratism, hedonism and extravagance, and resolutely fight against corruption and other misconduct in all manifestations," Xi said, while outlining his vision for the 'China dream'.

Difficult transition

The country's leadership takes charge at a time of difficult transitions. With the economic model that brought decades of high growth stumbling, the government is looking to transform the world's second-largest economy by nurturing self-sustaining growth based on domestic consumption and technology industries instead of labour-intensive exports and investment.

A more assertive foreign policy, cyber-hacking and years of pursuing natural resources have caused concern among China's neighbours and the United States.

The officials appointed on Saturday embarked on their careers as China was re-entering world trade and politics after decades of isolation. They are representative of how far China's reach extends, having more international exposure than their predecessors.

Al Jazeera's Scott Heidler, reporting from Hong Kong, said that the Congress' two week session was a "tightly choreographed affair".

"All the decisions and votes that have taken place [...] were already negotiated well before the People's Congress started two weeks ago," he said.

Policy continuity

Trade envoy Gao Hucheng, who has a PhD in sociology from the University of Paris and has worked in Europe and Africa, was named commerce minister.

Lou Jiwei, chairman of China's multibillion-dollar sovereign wealth fund and a fixture in international financial circles, was appointed as finance minister.

Their appointments are likely to reassure trading partners and financial markets about policy continuity.

Central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan, another prominent figure, was also kept on.

Similarly, Wang Yi, a career diplomat with experience working on some of China's most intricate diplomatic issues, was named foreign minister. A former ambassador to Japan, Wang worked with the US in nuclear disarmament talks with North Korea and has charted Beijing's successful outreach to Taiwan, healing an estrangement from their separation in the Chinese civil war.

For defence minister, leaders chose General Chang Wanquan, a soldier from a poor farming family who has commanded the manned space programme.

At home, the new leaders are expected to emphasise social spending and other measures to combat the income gap.

Economic growth fell to 7.8 percent last year, China's weakest performance since the 1990s. Weaker consumer spending has set back rebalancing plans by forcing the government to support the recovery with spending on building subways and other public works.


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