China completes extensive change in leadership

Choices signal continuity with policies set by Jiang

March 18, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BEIJING - Chinese legislators appointed new leaders yesterday to oversee economic, defense and foreign affairs, capping an extensive but evolutionary leadership transition that has placed technocratic, career bureaucrats in command of the country.

The National People's Congress approved 28 new ministers, four vice premiers and five state councilors to serve in the Cabinet headed by Wen Jiabao, who was promoted Sunday to prime minister.

Though many of the new ministers are not well known in the West, many appear to resemble Wen, who has a reputation for pragmatism, quiet competence and loyalty to the top bosses of the Communist Party.

Analysts said the choices signaled continuity with the policy line put in place by Jiang Zemin, the former president and Communist Party chief, and Zhu Rongji, the outgoing premier.

Most Cabinet members were in fact groomed during Jiang's decade-long reign as China's top leader. Jiang himself, who retains control of the military through his chairmanship of the Central Military Commission, will remain a force in politics.

Some of the most senior new leaders, including Huang Ju, a former Shanghai party boss named to the powerful post of executive vice premier, are considered personally loyal to Jiang and likely to offer support to him in the leadership's sometimes factional struggles for power.

Jiang also seems likely to continue to exert considerable sway over foreign affairs. Li Zhaoxing, 62, the career diplomat named to replace Tang Jiaxuan as foreign minister, is considered personable and well-briefed on the United States, where he served as ambassador until 2001.

Some Western diplomats argue that Li is unlikely to have the influence to alter the course of foreign policy and might end up serving mainly as China's top spokesman. Tang has taken a new job overseeing foreign affairs as a state councilor. Wu Yi, a longtime trade official and one of the few women in China's top ranks, was named vice premier, also with responsibility for international policy.

At defense, Cao Gangchuan, 58, a military logistics expert who acquired top-shelf weapons from Russia and built up China's missile and space programs, was named to replace Chi Haotian.

Cao put into effect a strategy of using batteries of short-range missiles to intimidate Taiwan, which China is trying to dissuade from seeking independence. As head of the Commission of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense, Cao also expanded China's space program and pushed a plan to put astronauts into orbit for the first time, now set to happen later this year.

Another powerful official in the new Cabinet is Lu Fuyuan, who was promoted to head the Commerce Ministry, which has jurisdiction over domestic and international trade. Lu will have the main day-to-day responsibility for carrying out the economic changes China agreed to make as the price of entry into the World Trade Organization.

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