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Superpower in Transition: China’s National Congress Kicks Off

GOH CHAI HIN/AFP/Getty Images(BEIJING) -- Just days after the U.S. election, China is gearing up to announce its own new leadership.

The 18th National Congress kicked off in Beijing Thursday, signaling a transition of power at the top of the Communist Party.

But unlike the U.S., there are no debates, no campaigns and no election in China.  Instead, the signs of political change are marked by a massive security presence in Beijing as over 2,000 Communist party leaders gather to formally announce the country’s next generation of rulers.  Very little is known about the process to appoint new leaders, even less about the man expected to take the helm.

Outgoing President Hu Jintao delivered his farewell remarks from a podium in the Great Hall of the People, flanked by stoic and nearly silent party members.

In a speech meant to highlight his role in transforming China into a global, economic powerhouse, Hu’s focus was surprisingly negative.  He said the country’s social problems -- disparity of wealth, pollution and food safety, to name a few -- are "unsustainable" and could bring about the "collapse" of the country.

Hu said China faces a "period of great change" that includes a sagging economy under "complicated domestic and international circumstances."  He mentioned corruption no less than 16 times.  And yet, he urged the next generation of party leaders to maintain "firm control" -- signaling political reform is far from given.

Vice President Xi Jinping, the man expected to be named party secretary and president, and later chairman of the military, sat quietly onstage throughout.  He is expected to be formally announced as China’s new ruler on Wednesday.

All eyes will be on the seven party members who will make up the new Standing Committee -- the core faction that essentially runs the country.  As far as reading tea leaves on how China will handle the next decade, the resume of those on the Standing Committee may offer the best take on which direction China will take.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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