17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China
China's New Leaders Steeped in Pragmatism

When President Hu Jintao needed someone to jump-start an economically listless province in China's northeastern rust belt, he turned to a trusted aide with a doctorate in economics and a low-key manner.

Three years after Li Keqiang took the helm in Liaoning, manufacturing is booming, government coffers are brimming and foreign investment is pouring in. Last month, the province hosted a meeting of the glitzy World Economic Forum, where the heads of multinational firms hobnobbed with top Chinese leaders.

When China's Communist Party elite gathers for a once-every-five-years congress starting Monday, all eyes will be on Li. Buoyed by his success and his ties to Hu, Li is widely tipped to join the party's powerful inner circle. At the relatively boyish age of 52, he has long been seen as Hu's favorite as a successor.

Li's rise is also a sign of how much China is changing. Like Hu, Li belongs to a new generation of Chinese leaders who are pragmatic, steeped in economic experience and increasingly have backgrounds in finance and law, in contrast to the engineers and soldiers who preceded them.

Their leadership structure is more collegial, and their focus is on the economy, not on the communist political system they have inherited. In fact, their position on political reform and democracy is unclear -- though many attended college during a period of fervent debate, they never speak publicly on these issues.

"China is at a turning point and Li is the sort of person with the ambition to achieve new goals," said Wang Juntao, a political dissident who was a classmate of Li's at Peking University.




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