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Wen inherits growth with its pangs

Beijing, March 16 (Reuters): China’s parliament picked Wen Jiabao as Premier today, placing the world’s fastest-growing major economy in the hands of a man who must tackle deep problems like a rotten banking system and a yawning wealth gap.

Wen, 60, was confirmed as successor to the highly respected Zhu Rongji by the National People’s Congress, China’s ceremonial legislature, as it winds down its annual two-week session.

Nearly 3,000 delegates gathered in Beijing’s gigantic Great Hall of the People off Tiananmen Square to vote on Wen’s appointment and put the final stamp of approval on a historic handover to a younger generation of leaders.

Parliament also re-elected Xiao Yang as top judge and chose former public security chief Jia Chunwang as top prosecutor to tackle the rampant corruption that is another blight on the economy. Wen, who as vice premier under Zhu handled a wide range of issues from finance and scientific research to disaster relief, received 2,906 votes for, three against, and 16 abstentions.

When the results flashed on a screen in the cavernous main hall, the bespectacled Wen smiled, took a bow, then shook hands with Zhu.

Wen now takes the reins of the world’s sixth-biggest economy, which galloped along at 8 per cent growth last year.

He will try to keep the economy growing by at least 7 per cent this year and usher the once Marxist country further down the path of capitalist reform.

His appointment followed the confirmation of Communist Party chief Hu Jintao as state president yesterday. Hu succeeded Jiang Zemin, who will continue to wield power behind the scenes as chairman of a powerful military body.

A former geologist whose smarts and loyalty helped him rise to the highest ranks of power, Wen also has a breadth of experience that is expected to serve him well, analysts said.

“Wen is universally regarded as a responsive and adaptive individual,” Barry Naughton, an expert on China’s economy at the University of California, San Diego, wrote in a recent paper.

“His intelligence is unquestioned. He is meticulous and extremely hard-working. He is reputed to be personally honest, his personal habits seem above reproach, and his family is not tainted by accusations of corruption,” Naughton wrote.

But Wen has his work cut out.

Problems simmer beneath China’s sparkling growth figures. If mishandled, they could derail the economy and throw the 1.3 billion people of the world’s most populous country into turmoil. A huge mountain of bad loans threatens to smother banks and sink their ambitions to become modern financial houses.

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