China’s President Hu wins a second term atop a new leadership line-up


BEIJING — President Hu Jintao won a second five-year term as China’s Communist Party chief Monday, heading a new leadership lineup that features potential successors yet could invite a divisive battle to succeed him.

Overall, Hu emerged politically stronger from eight days of high-level political meetings and months of bargaining in the lead-up. A party congress that wrapped up Sunday endorsed Hu’s signature policy program to help the poor and saw the retirement of a key rival. A Central Committee meeting Monday elevated a Hu protege, Li Keqiang, into the leadership.

“We are keenly aware of our difficult tasks and great responsibilities,” Hu said introducing the new nine-man Politburo Standing Committee, the party’s most powerful body, in brief remarks broadcast live by state television.

Yet the deals Hu struck became clearer with the inauguration of the new lineup of five holdovers from the last leadership and four newcomers. Key positions that oversee law enforcement and internal party investigations were given to associates of his rivals. Another younger politician and potential competitor to Li was also promoted.

Hu’s ability to manage this disparate coalition will determine how united the party is in dealing with tensions over a yawning gap between rich and poor at home and managing China’s rising clout abroad so as not to anger the U.S. and other world powers.

If Hu is successful, he will be freer to boost spending on health, education and other services long-neglected in the headlong drive for economic growth. Otherwise, with his own retirement likely in five years, he risks becoming a lame duck.

“Hu Jintao is a brilliant politician,” said Cheng Li, a watcher of elite Chinese politics at Washington’s Brookings Institution. But managing the new leadership “is a serious test.”

In the months ahead, a crucial sign will be the relationship between the leadership’s youngest members: Hu’s protege of 20 years since their days in the Communist Youth League, the 52-year-old Li, and 54-year-old Xi Jinping, Shanghai’s party secretary.

The son of a politically influential veteran revolutionary, Xi is less beholden to Hu and emerged in recent weeks as a compromise candidate for leaders who feared giving Hu too much sway.