China Unveils Xi Jinping As New Leader

Mark Stone, China Correspondent

Xi Jinping has been confirmed as China's new leader after appearing on a stage in Beijing's Great Hall of the People along with the other six men who will now lead the world's second largest economy.

"On behalf of the members of the newly elected central leadership, I wish to express our heartfelt thanks to all other members of the party for the great trust they have placed in us. We will strive to be worthy of their trust and fulfil our mission," the 59-year-old told the gathered media.

Mr Xi is now the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and will become Chinese president in March. Li Kequang will become the country's premier at the same time.

The moment the appointment of the two men was confirmed came when they and the five other members of the Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee appeared on a stage in the Great Hall.

The new leaders were almost an hour late in appearing, providing an unusual moment of suspense for Chinese politics which is normally highly choreographed and predictable.

As he took to the podium to address the waiting media, Mr Xi apologised for the delay and outlined his challenges ahead.

"We are not complacent, and we will never rest on our laurels," he said.

"Our party faces many severe challenges, and there are also many pressing problems within the party that need to be resolved, particularly corruption, being divorced from the people, going through formalities and bureaucratism caused by some party officials," Mr Xi said.

"We must make every effort to solve these problems. The whole party must stay on full alert."

Mr Xi was also named head of the Communist Party's Central Military Commission, according to Chinese state news agency Xinhua. Until now, there had been suggestions that outgoing President Hu Jintao would remain head of the military.

The size of the Standing Committee has been reduced from nine to seven. The other members are Zhang Dejiang, Yu Zhengsheng, Liu Yunshan, Wang Qishan and Zhang Gaoli.

Surprisingly, Guangdong Province's reform-minded party boss Wang Yang did not make it onto the top body.

Five of the seven men are seen as being possible cautious modernisers, and yet with the possible exception of Li Kequang and Xi Jinping, none is seen as a genuine reformer.

However, both Liu Yunshan and Zhang Dejiang are said to be far more conservative-minded. Mr Liu has been director of the party's propaganda bureau since 2002 and has kept the domestic media on a tight leash. And Mr Zhang, an ultra-conservative, studied in North Korea.

Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a professor of political science at Hong Kong's Baptist University is cautious about whether reform will come under the new leadership.

"The leadership is divided ... I see a lot of political paralysis in terms of changing the political system ... I don't see them rocking the boat unless Xi Jinping demonstrates leadership and charisma and imposes his views on the rest of the leadership."

China is the world's second largest economy, but it is slowing. Western leaders have long called for wholesale political and further economic reform in China.

Mr Xi takes the reins at a time when corruption is rife, the gap between rich and poor is massive and growing and environmental problems are huge.

"To address these problems, we must first of all conduct ourselves honourably," Mr Xi said.

"Our responsibility is to work with all the comrades in the party to uphold the principle that the party should supervise its own conduct and run itself with strict discipline, effectively solve major problems in the party, improve our conduct, and maintain close ties with the people.

"Our people have an ardent love for life. They wish to have better education, more stable jobs, more income, greater social security, better medical and health care, improved housing conditions, and a better environment."

The 1.3 billion people in China do not have a say in who leads them or who sits on this top body. The Communist Party makes up just 6%of the population. Its appointment process works like a pyramid: at each level fewer and fewer people have a say who rises above them.

Mr Xi concluded his first speech as China's new leader with a message for the international community.

"Friends from the press," Xi said, "Just as China needs to learn more about the world, so does the world need to learn more about China.

"I hope you will continue your efforts to deepen mutual understanding between China and the world," he added.