China names Xi Jinping as new president

China names Xi Jinping as new president

BEIJING - Agence France-Presse
China names Xi Jinping as new president

Chinese President Xi Jinping walks to his seat prior to the election for the new president of China during the 12th National People's Congress (NPC) in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 14, 2013. China's parliament is to name Xi Jinping as the country's new president on March 14, formalising his leadership of the world's most populous nation four months after he took charge of the ruling Communist Party. AFP PHOTO /GOH CHAI HIN

China's parliament named Xi Jinping as president Thursday, four months after he took charge of the Communist Party with pledges of reform that have raised hopes but so far yielded little change.

About 3,000 delegates lined up to cast their votes in Beijing's cavernous Great Hall of the People, dropping red papers into red ballot boxes in front of giant red flags, but the outcome was never in doubt.

Xi received 2,952 votes at the tightly choreographed ceremony, with one against and three abstentions, a 99.86 percent share.

Xi's formal appointment as head of the world's most populous nation is due to be followed by the naming of Li Keqiang as premier on Friday, marking the final step in the nation's once-in-a-decade power handover.

Communist party leader

Xi's new role was effectively guaranteed by his position as Communist party leader, the real source of his authority in China, but the title will increase his public and international standing.

He takes office at a time when China is becoming more assertive on the global stage and is taking a harder line on territorial rows with its neighbours, and Xi has vowed to increase its military strength.

Domestically, since taking the top party post in November Xi has pledged to preserve the ruling party's grip on power by cracking down on corruption, improving people's livelihoods and pushing forward economic reforms.

But despite the promises of action on multiple fronts, including pollution, observers say concrete reforms would be complex and will not be swiftly introduced.

Former military body leader

Xi last year became head of China's top military body, the Central Military Commission, unlike his predecessor Hu Jintao, who worked as President for two years before his predecessor Jiang Zemin passed on the Commission chairmanship.

"In recent memory there is no comparable figure who has such power in his hand (so quickly)," said Willy Lam, a politics expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

As the son of one of China's most famous generals, Xi has closer ties to the People's Liberation Army than Hu did and has strengthened the relationship in recent months with an unusually high number of visits to military bases.

He is seen as one of the architects of China's recent more assertive stance on territorial disputes with neighbouring countries and a supporter of Beijing's military expansion, telling troops recently that they should be "combat ready".

"Comrade Xi Jinping pays a great deal of attention to military development, especially in raising the military's level of battle preparedness," said Yang Jianhua, a green-uniformed military delegate to the NPC.

Japan congratulates

Tokyo sent congratulations, and its Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said it had "always kept our door open for dialogue with China", adding the relationship was "one of the most important international relationships for Japan".

Officially Xi was elected for a five-year term, but tradition dictates that barring extraordinary events he will hold the position for a decade.

He is a Communist "princeling", the name given to relations of the first generation of Communist leaders, who grew up immersed in the ruling party's upper echelons.

But he has threatened to target not only lowly "flies" but also top-ranking "tigers" in a crackdown on corruption, which incenses many Chinese, warning that graft could "kill the party".

Bloomberg investigation into Xi's family

In the months since Xi's party promotion a parade of lower-level officials have been exposed for graft in efforts that have been lauded in state media as proof of a crackdown.

But an investigation by US news agency Bloomberg found that Xi's family had amassed hundreds of millions of dollars in assets. There was no accusation of wrongdoing on his part.

Suited delegates leaving the Great Hall after casting their votes refused to answer questions about whether Xi's family wealth could be an obstacle to reform. "Don't ask about that," said one.

Li Yuanchao, 62, who is seen as a reform advocate, was named as vice-president.