Economic reform and generational leadership change topped the agenda during Chinaís Ninth National Peopleís Congress (NPC). The surprising news of Foreign Minister Qian Qichenís resignation made the NPC one of the most politically charged events of the year.

Coupled with the news that fifteen of the forty state ministries and commissions will be phased out, Chinaís leadership seems to be taking a "leaner, meaner" approach to government.

Zhu Rongji

Premier Zhu occupied the NPC spotlight. Extremely popular and known for his blunt, but effective leadership style, Zhu took 98 percent of the delegate votes at the NPC.

NPC delegates overwhelmingly supported Zhuís bureaucratic reform proposal to eliminate several state ministries. Under the proposed program, the State Commission for Restructuring the Economy will be dissolved and taken over by Zhu.

Other ambitious economic plans include the restructuring of the state sector, creating industrial conglomerates, and reforming the state banking sector.

To help him initiate his reforms, Zhu selected young, pragmatic technocrats for key economic and financial posts. Two state entrepreneurs, Sheng Huaren, 63, and Zhou Yongkang, 55, will be head of the State Economic and Trade Commission and Minister of State Land Resources, respectively. Analysts say that Sheng will be Zhuís point-man for economic growth with low inflation and fiscal prudence.

Li Peng

The first premier to leave his office because of constitutional term limits, Li made it clear that he will remain a formidable player. Sources close to the Li clique reported that he was pleased with 88.9 percent of the deputiesí votes he received and will use the NPC as his new political powerbase.

As Chairman of the NPC, Li will keep company with at least four Politburo members and many recently retired but still powerful ministers.

Qiao Shi

As NPC standing committee Chairman during the past five years, Qiao, 72, was forced to retire from all Party posts during the September 1997 NPC. He was instrumental in promoting the "rule of law", and his presence at Central Committee plenum meetings this year indicates that he will continue to wield influence.

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