National & World News

China at crossroads as Xi Jinping assumes presidency

By Katie Hunt, HONG KONG (CNN) — Chinese leader Xi Jinping will formally assume the title of state president this week, as Beijing hosts a high-profile meeting of the country’s legislature that will complete China’s once-in-a-decade leadership transition.

During the National People’s Congress (NPC), which begins on Tuesday, Xi, who took the top job in the Chinese Communist Party in November, will succeed the outgoing Hu Jintao, while Li Keqiang will become premier, replacing Wen Jiabao.

A separate session of the government’s top advisory body began its opening session on Sunday.

Delegates from around the country have been arriving in Beijing for the meetings, which, while highly choreographed, are expected to shed light on the future direction of China, which many people believe is at a crossroads.

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 on Sunday, Xi warned that China faced many risks and challenges, saying that the party’s future was at stake.

“All party members, especially leaders should have the sense of urgency that our skills and abilities require constant sharpening and renewing,” Xi said in the speech that was given on Friday at the Central Party School that trains officials.

“The goal of ‘two 100 years’ can only be achieved when we become a party that keeps learning and improving.”

The NPC, which takes places at The Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square, will give Xi the opportunity to lay out his policies, and he is expected to make fighting corruption a priority.

In several speeches since he took control of the Communist Party in November, he has warned that corruption could lead to the collapse of the party and the downfall of the state.

“The central government stresses the change of working style, we encourage more learning, more thinking and less wasteful dinner parties and pointless formalism and bureaucracy,” Xi said on Friday.

Beijing is also planning to create a single agency to deal with food and drug regulation after a string of deadly scandals surrounding food safety, the South China Morning Post reported.

Ordinary Chinese are trying to make their voices heard as the meetings commence and one group airing their grievances is migrant workers.

“We are all Chinese citizens. Why are our kids not treated equally, like those with permanent Beijing residency? We live and work here and pay the taxes as well,” one woman told CNN at a protest outside the capital’s municipal education commission on Thursday.

She said the children of migrant workers living in Beijing are discriminated against because they cannot take part in college entrance exams that play a key part in determining a child’s future.

China’s new leaders will also be looking to project strength not just at home but also on the global stage. Beijing has been standing up to its neighbor Japan over a disputed chain of islands and recently landed a fighter jet on the deck of an aircraft carrier for the first time.

CNN’s David McKenzie, Steven Jiang and Shao Tian in Beijing contributed to this report

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