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Li Keqiang named Chinese premier, government's second most powerful post

By Jaime Florcruz, CNN
March 15, 2013 -- Updated 0833 GMT (1633 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Li Keqiang was named China's premier, the No. 2 position
  • Xi Jinping formally took the role of Chinese president on Thursday
  • New leaders were named last November but have been waiting for congress
  • NPC discussed major issues facing country, including economic aims

Beijing (CNN) -- Li Keqiang on Friday was named China's premier, the No. 2 position in the Chinese government, completing the once-a-decade transition of leadership in the world's most populous nation.

He replaces Wen Jiabao.

Li rose to the position at the nation's annual parliamentary gathering, which a day earlier named Xi Jinping as China's new president. He was the sole candidate.

The vote was largely a rubber stamp that completes the highly choreographed leadership transition which started in November, which saw the traditionally nine-member Politburo Standing Committee shrink to seven.

Four months after taking over as General Secretary of the Communist Party, Xi replaced outgoing leader Hu Jintao Thursday after a formal vote of about 3,000 deputies at the National People's Congress (NPC).

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Xi was also named chairman of the state Central Military Commission. "He has had a stronger military relationship than either of his two predecessors -- Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao -- when they began, so Xi comes in with a really strong position and he needs it," Robert Lawrence Kuhn, author of "How China's Leaders Think," told CNN.

"We could go through a whole list of problems from the structure of the economy as well as the social issues: Health care, housing, education and pollution and retirement and food safety," Kuhn added. "All of these things are all bubbling up together -- and with a billion cell phones in China, everybody knows it, so he's on the spot."

Opening the NPC last week, Wen urged delegates to "unite as one and work hard to finish building a moderately prosperous society in all respects and achieve the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation," according to state-run news agency Xinhua.

PROFILES: China's new leaders

Since the congress convened March 5, thousands of Chinese officials have held a series of meetings to discuss the structure of state departments and future targets. The NPC concludes Sunday.

Goals set out for China, now the world's second largest economy, during the NPC included an annual growth rate this year of 7.5%. Efforts would be made to keep consumer price inflation at around 3.5%. And, nine million new jobs would be created with the intention of keeping urban unemployment at no more than 4.6%.

Beijing announced during the NPC it would strengthen the powers of the State Food and Drug Administration in the wake of widespread health concerns over food safety, such as tainted milk and baby formula scandals, according to Xinhua.

READ: Three challenges for new leaders

The issue of water quality also became clear during the congress, with the discovery of nearly 6,000 dead pigs in a Shanghai river, raising local concerns about the safety of the city's drinking water.

This winter has seen its worst pollution in living memory, angering a population already jaded by a series of high-profile corruption scandals -- including the downfall of the once high-flying politician Bo Xilai -- that have tainted the reputation of the party.

In a speech published by the People's Daily earlier this month, Xi warned that China faced many risks and challenges, saying that the party's future was at stake.

The NPC also approved the restructuring of several ministries under the State Council.

The two agencies that regulate and censor media -- the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television and the General Administration of Press and Publication -- will be merged, as will the Health Ministry and the National Population and Family Planning Commission, Xinhua reported.

CNN's Kevin Voigt and Katie Hunt contributed to this story

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