NEW: Xi Jinping formally takes role of Chinese president
China's National People's Congress draws to a close
New leaders were named last November but have been waiting for congress
NPC discussed major issues facing country, including economic aims
Xi Jinping was named China’s president Thursday by the country’s parliament, one of the final steps in China’s once-in-a-decade leadership change.
Four months after taking over as General Secretary of the Communist Party, Xi replaces outgoing leader Hu Jintao after a formal vote of about 3,000 deputies at the National People’s Congress (NPC).
The vote, largely a rubber stamp that completes the highly choreographed leadership transition, was unanimous.
Li Keqiang will become premier, replacing Wen Jiabao who stands aside as part of the leadership overhaul, which will see the traditionally nine-member Politburo Standing Committee shrink to seven.
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.
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.
On the first day, Wen announced the country was aiming for 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%.
During the NPC, it was announced Beijing 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.
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The issue of water quality also became clear during the congress, with the discovery of nearly 6,000 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.