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Communist Party leader assumes China presidency

Xi Jinping (front right) followed Hu Jintao (front left) and took the helm as China’s president during a meeting of the National People’s Congress in Beijing on Thursday.

Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Xi Jinping (front right) followed Hu Jintao (front left) and took the helm as China’s president during a meeting of the National People’s Congress in Beijing on Thursday.

HONG KONG — Xi Jinping, the new leader of the Communist Party, assumed the presidency of China on Thursday, completing his formal transition to power. He did so at a legislative meeting that has signaled a more responsive approach to an impatient public, while defending the party’s top-down control.

The National People’s Congress anointed Xi as president four months after he was appointed as Communist Party general secretary and chairman of the Central Military Commission, putting him at the top of all three major power centers in China: the party, the army and the state.

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There was never any doubt that compliant delegates to the annual Parliament would overwhelmingly endorse Xi for president. They also named his ally Li Yuanchao as vice president. Only one of the 2,956 delegates who cast valid ballots in the Great Hall of the People on Tuesday voted against Xi; three abstained.

The new president faces conflicting expectations of how he will apply the power in his hands — expectations that he kindled himself.

Since he succeeded Hu Jintao as party leader in November, he has used meetings, speeches, and visits to a frenetic coastal city and a dirt-poor village to signal that he wants some economic liberalization, more room for citizens to criticize the government, and a crackdown on the official corruption that has increasingly infuriated Chinese citizens.

Yet Xi has also rejected any turn to Western-inspired political liberalization and has demanded utter loyalty from officials and the military.

“I think that he’s attracted to the idea of a kind of enlightened dictatorship, or neo-authoritarianism. He rejects fundamental political reform, but he wants a cleaner, more efficient government that is closer to the public,’’ said Li Weidong, a former magazine editor in Beijing who is a prominent commentator on politics.

‘I think that [Xi is] attracted to the idea of a kind of enlightened dictatorship.’

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‘‘I think in the end it will be difficult for them to avoid issues of political reform, because otherwise it will be impossible to eradicate corruption,’’ Li said. ‘‘Relying on personal authority and party indoctrination and traditions won’t solve the problems they face.’’

Meeting Parliament delegates, Xi repeated vows to counter slowing economic growth by encouraging consumer spending and pulling down barriers to farmers migrating to towns and cities.

He told People’s Liberation Army delegates that a strong, absolutely loyal military was essential to his ‘‘China dream’’ of patriotic revival.

Xi, 59, is the son of a Communist Party official who served under Mao Zedong and became a supporter of Deng Xiaoping’s reforms to curtail party controls and nurture markets. Li Yuanchao, the vice president, is also the ‘‘princeling’’ son of a senior cadre.

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