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China's new president calls for 'great renaissance'

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

China's new President Xi Jinping said Sunday he will fight for a "great renaissance of the Chinese nation", as the world's most populous country completed its once-in-a-decade power transition.

In his first speech as head of state, Xi called for "the continued realisation of the great renaissance of the Chinese nation and the Chinese dream", laying out a vision of a stronger military and ever-higher living standards.

The 25-minute speech closed a parliament meeting which named Xi as head of state and Li Keqiang as premier, four months after the pair took the top two posts in the ruling Communist Party -- the real source of their power.

Both Xi and Li stuck to the party's long-held consensus on the need for economic reforms to ensure growth, while increasing military power and avoiding political change that could threaten its grip on power.

Analysts said Xi's concept of a "great renaissance" was a slogan designed to have broad appeal, without any firm commitments to specific reforms.

Xi has close ties to China's expanding military -- which put its first aircraft carrier into service last year -- and he called for the armed forces to strengthen their ability to "win battles".

Beijing is embroiled in a bitter territorial row with Japan over islands in the East China Sea, and with neighbouring nations over claims to the South China Sea. Tensions with the US have increased over reports of army-organised hacking.

Newly appointed Premier Li Keqiang sought to play down such conflicts in a press conference, saying that Beijing would not "seek hegemony" as it became stronger and denying allegations that China engages in hacking.

Li called the accusations "groundless", days after President Barack Obama weighed in on the issue. He said China's relationship with Washington was vital and their mutual interests outweighed their differences.

"Conflicts between big powers are not inevitable," Li said.

Li, now in charge of the day-to-day running of the government, said that "maintaining sustainable economic growth", with an annual GDP increase of around 7.5 percent over the coming decade, would be his administration's top priority.

But ensuring such a performance would be difficult, he said. China recorded its slowest growth for more than a decade last year amid weakened demand in key export markets.

"What the market can do, we should release more to the market", he said without giving details of specific economic reforms.

Both leaders reiterated the party's repeated pledges to fight corruption, with Li saying that the government had an "unshakable resolve" to do so.

"Since we have chosen public service we should give up all thought of making money," the premier said.

Speaking in Beijing's Great Hall of the People, Xi stressed continuity with previous Chinese leaders and thanked outgoing president Hu Jintao, who stood and bowed as China completed the transition of its top leaders.

Neither Xi nor Li mentioned systematic political reform. But Li said China would release a plan for unspecified changes to its controversial "re-education" labour camp system, in which people can be incarcerated for up to four years without trial.

He also promised to reduce the number of government employees as part of an anti-waste drive, again without giving details.

"The tone is definitely conservative," Joseph Cheng, a China politics expert at Hong Kong's City University, said of Xi's speech. "It is difficult to anticipate serious political reforms in the near future.

"What we see here is a very balanced approach not to alienate any vested interests and to continue to do something popular like combat corruption, combat lavishness and pomp and so on, and appeal to patriotism."

Jean-Pierre Cabestan, professor of political science at Hong Kong Baptist University, said Xi's comments were open to widely differing interpretations. "We haven't seen many detailed analyses of what the China dream might be," he said.

Some within the PLA had a "much more aggressive" vision of the "China dream", he said, while others saw it as "the idea of cultural renaissance, China getting back its due status in world politics and restoring its prosperity".

Li handled his rare press conference -- for which questions had to be submitted in advance -- in a relaxed manner, smiling and occasionally joking with reporters.

But he did not field questions about the wealth of top officials and did not mention disgraced politician Bo Xilai, whose downfall last year exposed deep divisions in the ruling party before the leadership handover.

China's leaders have come under fire in the last year after reports, suppressed within the country, that the families of top politicians -- including Xi -- had amassed huge wealth.

But they have not vowed publicly to disclose their assets.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130317/chinas-new-president-calls-great-renaissance