Highly Scripted, China Moves Toward New Leaders China began its once-a-decade leadership transition as the 18th Communist Party Congress opened Thursday. The message focused on cleaning up government corruption, which President Hu Jintao said could be "fatal" to the party and the state.

Highly Scripted, China Moves Toward New Leaders

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

We begin this hour with a political milestone, not here in the U.S., but in China. Today begins a once-in-a-decade transition of power there with the opening of the 18th Party Congress in Beijing. Communist China and its next generation of leaders will no doubt figure prominently in President Obama's second-term foreign policy.

We'll have more on that in a few minutes. But first to NPR's Louisa Lim in Beijing, who reports that this political transition is being carefully managed, and the winners are already known.


LOUISA LIM, BYLINE: This is the Communist Party's party. It's a highly choreographed political ritual that plays out in the Great Hall of the People. The first step: a one-and-a-half hour-long swansong by outgoing party leader Hu Jintao. Taking aim at corruption, he warned officials to rein in their families, a coded warning in the year marked by the scandalous downfall of a top official, Bo Xilai, for abuse of power and corruption.

HU JINTAO: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: If we fail to handle this issue well, he said, it could prove fatal to the party and even cause the collapse of the party and the fall of the state.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: Outside the hall, the buzzword among the 2,000-plus delegates was hope - hope for the future.

LIU LIN: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: We're going to build a cleaner government, says delegate Liu Lin, with cleaner officials, cleaner politics. This is in line with people's wishes.


LIM: Center stage was China's former president, Jiang Zemin. He'd been rumored dead last year, but his comeback is personal and political, with reports he's stacking the new leadership team with his supporters. That could stymie reform attempts by the new leader, Xi Jinping, according to Kenneth Lieberthal from The Brookings Institution.

KENNETH LIEBERTHAL: For these people coming in, there will be two generations of predecessors looking over their shoulders. Those generations will have cut the deals that will have put together the team that is now taking over. This team is not Xi Jinping's team. This team is Hu Jintao, Wen Jiabao, Jiang Zemin, et cetera's team, so that Xi has, first of all, a problem in getting everyone on the same page on the standing committee.

LIM: That team will be unveiled next week after the congress closes. But it's clear the succession process is still hostage to patronage politics, and that could cloud the legacy of this leadership.

KERRY BROWN: What strikes me is, in a sense, we have a situation where the Communist Party has returned to its historic template. It's a state within a state.

LIM: That's Kerry Brown from the University of Sydney.

BROWN: You get almost tribal politics or tribal kind of networks where you just have sort of people around you you look after and - almost like Mafia politics. And that's, you know, a complete counter-narrative to the one I'm sure that they would like.

LIM: This was Hu Jintao's day. His successor, Xi Jinping, didn't say a single word. That, too, is according to plan. But his low profile means few know what to expect. Here's Kenneth Lieberthal again.

LIEBERTHAL: For a person in Xi's position, it's frankly extremely hard to know how reformist he is, how determined he is, how tough he is. He has risen to the top in a very tough political system, so he's obviously no schmo. But for what he'll actually be like, he's gotten to the top because he's been very good at concealing that.

JINTAO: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: Change may be coming, but its limits were outlined today. As a parting shot, Hu Jintao made sure of that. Among the fuzzy pledges he made, there was one absolute: We will never copy a Western political system, he said. Louisa Lim, NPR News, Beijing.

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