- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 16, 2008

BEIJING (AP) — China’s legislature re-elected Hu Jintao as president yesterday, giving him a second five-year term as leader of the world’s most populous country. It also returned Mr. Hu as head of the Central Military Commission, the body overseeing the armed forces.

The National People’s Congress appointed Xi Jinping, a top Communist Party leader and the son of a revolutionary, as vice president. Mr. Xi, ranked No. 6 in the party hierarchy, is widely seen as Mr. Hu’s likely successor and has risen quickly through the party’s ranks in just six months.

The congress also approved a plan to reshuffle the Cabinet by establishing five “super ministries” and a ministerial-level energy commission.

Both men received virtually unanimous support from the nearly 3,000 National People’s Congress delegates, known to unfailingly carry out decisions made by the party’s top leadership. There were no other candidates for the positions, reflecting the one-party state’s stress on consensus and outer harmony.

As the results were read out, each man stood and bowed from the dais of the cavernous Great Hall of the People. Neither addressed the delegates.

Under Mr. Hu, China’s economy has continued to grow rapidly while its international profile has steadily risen, a development embodied by Beijing’s hosting of the Olympic Games in August.

Mr. Hu and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, who heads the government administration, are generally well supported among middle-class urban Chinese, who see the two leaders as competent and sympathetic to their concerns over housing woes, inflation, medical care and education.

In a sign of Mr. Xi’s rise to prominence, he has been placed in charge of preparations for the Olympics, an event generating enormous national pride and regarded by the leadership as a chance to show off a dynamic new China to the world.

But Mr. Hu and his advisers face stiff challenges during his second term. Soaring food costs have driven inflation to its highest level in nearly 12 years. And snowstorms this winter brought many parts of China to a halt, highlighting transportation weaknesses, power infrastructure and government planning.

Deadly anti-Chinese riots in Tibet last week have underscored the lack of progress in tamping down unrest among the country’s minority groups.

The vice presidency, though devoid of real power, offers Mr. Xi an opportunity to nudge his profile higher through official travel and public appearances at state events.

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