BEIJING (AP) -- A former engineer whose personality and philosophy are mysteries to most Chinese became their most powerful leader Friday, appointed to guide their ruling party through economic reforms that are pushing China's doors open to a curious world.
The Communist Party, China's supreme authority, chose Vice President Hu Jintao as its new general secretary. That made Hu, a politician on the rise for more than a decade, the de facto leader of Asia's fastest-growing economy and assured his election as president next year.
It was communist China's first orderly transfer of authority, and had been widely expected for years. Though state media never named him as President Jiang Zemin's successor, Hu's climb through the party and government made it clear that he was being groomed for the post.
In keeping with communist tradition, Jiang remained the focus to the end, his face dominating the upper front page of virtually all of Beijing's newspapers. The party's inner sanctum, the Politburo Standing Committee, is stacked with Jiang allies, and Hu, like Jiang, will have to wait years to emerge from his predecessor's shadow.
At the White house, deputy press secretary Scott McClellan offered congratulations on behalf of President Bush and said Vice President Dick Cheney will visit China next year.
"We look forward to working with the new team. We congratulate the new General Secretary Hu," McClellan said.
"We will continue to work closely with Chinese leaders on a variety of issues as part of our important relationship with China, including human rights, religious freedoms and economic ties," he said.
Hu takes the helm of a new generation of leaders who will guide China through sweeping changes -- including market-oriented reforms that are transforming hundreds of millions of lives.
"We will live up to the great trust of the entire party and the expectations of people across the country," said Hu, 59, an owlish engineer who used to build hydroelectric power stations.
By replacing Jiang, 76, in China's top party job, Hu also becomes the odds-on choice to succeed him as president in March, taking over the government as well as the party that controls it. Jiang was re-elected to head the party military commission, ensuring he will have a continuing hand in China's rule.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.