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New leadership in China, but same old decision-making problems

China's transition to new leadership may portray a decisive nation to the rest of the world, but internally Chinese politics often make policy decisions a slow-going process.

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"The system discourages people of unique personalities. It often results in those with colorful characteristics losing out," said Wang Zhengxu of Britain's University of Nottingham.

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China's long march to collective leadership marked a concerted attempt to move away from the ruinous later years of Mao when he was worshipped as infallible and factions battled each other like street gangs. Millions of Chinese died or saw their lives and careers upended in the persecution.

The victor in the struggle for power after Mao's death, Deng Xiaoping, sought to end the cult of personality and put China on the path of market-oriented reforms. He was the last strongman from the revolutionary generation, able to summon alliances across the party, the government and the military and impose his vision on others. Ever since, each successive generation of leaders has been forced into painstaking coalition-building to get things done.

The most rumored leadership lineup among Beijing's political watchers seems to favor allies of Jiang Zemin, the 86-year-old former party supremo who stepped aside for Hu a decade ago. Aside from Xi, a Jiang protege, and premier-in-waiting Li, who is Hu's man, the contenders include Zhang Dejiang and Zhang Gaoli, two technocrats who worked with Jiang, and Liu Yunshan, the strict propaganda czar who counts Hu as an early career ally and Jiang as a later mentor.

Certain to be included is Wang Qishan, a longtime trouble-shooter who was named to the party's internal watchdog agency on Wednesday. Also in the running is Yu Zhengsheng, Shanghai's party secretary whose main qualification is his family's ties to long-dead reformist patriarch Deng, another sign of the lingering influence of party elders.

If true — and bargaining continued to take place over the past week, according to party-connected academics in Beijing — the roster leaves out key Hu allies. It's also heavy on older politicians who under current practice would have to retire at the next congress in five years. That's a recipe for continued wrangling as Hu's proteges, feeling left out, resist Xi's rule and campaign for the next leadership, political analysts said.

"China's not a democracy but the leadership is a not a monolithic group," said Cheng Li, a Chinese elite politics expert at the Brookings Institute in Washington. "Balance is important because it's in everyone's interests."

Even with unity in its ranks, Xi's collective leadership will need the better part of a year to assemble a full team. Government offices, like the prime minister or the ceremonial state presidency Hu still holds, do not change hands until the legislature meets in March, delaying the transition.

Should Hu give up his role as head of the military commission, he can still count on the commanders he has promoted across the services of the People's Liberation Army. Proof of that muscle came on the eve of the congress. A general whom Hu appointed to manage the military parade for the 60th anniversary of Communist rule in 2009, Fang Fenghui, was named chief of the general staff and a vice chairman of the commission.

Associated Press writer Christopher Bodeen contributed to this report.

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