- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 17, 2002

BEIJING China's new leader spent his first day at the helm of the world's most populous nation the same way he spent his decadelong wait as heir apparent: by revealing little and being careful not to upstage his predecessor, President Jiang Zemin.
The official media provided few additional clues yesterday about Hu Jintao, the enigmatic former engineer who was named to lead China's all-powerful Communist Party through a time of sweeping economic reform and social upheaval.
Mr. Hu, 59, took over as party general secretary Friday as part of a generational shift that was the first orderly transition of power in the party's 81-year history.
But few people in China know anything about Mr. Hu. They have rarely even seen him, despite years of political grooming and serving as China's vice president.
Front-page photographs in many state-run newspapers showed Mr. Hu standing alongside Mr. Jiang, who will stay on as military chief.
In a sign of Mr. Jiang's continued influence, other newspapers prominently ran photographs of him alone in an olive-drab tunic like that favored by communist China's founder, Mao Tse-tung.
Mr. Jiang, 76, ensured himself a voice in the party's ruling council, the Politburo Standing Committee, by installing six of his supporters among the nine new members, who were also named Friday.
"A group of energetic leaders with great ability have entered the central leading organizations, and it indicates that the party is flourishing and has great prospects," said an editorial in the party mouthpiece People's Daily.
Mr. Hu, who built hydroelectric stations before entering politics, has vowed to adhere to Mr. Jiang's policies of opening the economy and broadening party membership while keeping tight control of politics.
Mr. Hu appeared calm but cautious in his brief, mostly televised appearances after taking China's helm. He never spoke longer than a few minutes, sticking closely to prepared remarks and offering no off-the-cuff comments or other glimpses into his personality.
It's a cautious style that Mr. Hu has followed since being picked in the early 1990s as Mr. Jiang's successor by Deng Xiaoping, the late supreme leader who initiated economic reform and also installed Mr. Jiang.
Diplomats and officials who met Mr. Hu on his trip this year to the United States and in other rare contact with foreigners say he left an impression of intelligence but little else. Most Chinese hadn't heard his voice until 1999, when he spoke on national television during anti-American rioting ignited by the NATO bombing of China's embassy in Belgrade.
Mr. Hu is expected to take over the presidency in March from Mr. Jiang, who ruled China for 13 years following the 1989 crackdown on Tiananmen Square.
The makeup of the Standing Committee means Mr. Hu, like Mr. Jiang before him, will have to wait years to emerge from his predecessor's shadow.
Mr. Hu was the only member of the previous seven-member Standing Committee re-elected this week. The others, all but one of them in their 70s, gave up their seats.
The new leaders inherit Asia's fastest-growing economy, with trade and foreign investment headed for record highs this year. But Chinese are also looking to them to solve daunting problems: chronic corruption, growing gaps in wealth and mounting layoffs as state industries seek profitability.


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