China’s Communist Party selects new leadership committee

.BEIJING (AP) – Chinese President Hu Jintao engineered the retirement of a powerful Communist Party rival Sunday in a move that enhanced his political standing yet may have opened up a divisive battle to succeed him.

How much freedom the president will have to act in coming years will be clearer Monday when eight days of high-level party conclaves end with delegates reappointing Hu to a second five-year term and inaugurating a new collective leadership he will head.

The outcome of the dealmaking will determine how united the party is in dealing with tensions over a widening gap between rich and poor at home and managing China’s rising clout abroad so as not to anger the United States and other world powers.

Hu gained a significant edge Sunday with the departure of Vice President Zeng Qinghong. The president plans to elevate at least one protege and potential successor to the Politburo Standing Committee, the powerful body that runs China, which currently has nine seats.

But the departure of Zeng may also force Hu to reserve leadership spots for rivals and constrain his decision-making abilities.

If Hu is successful, the moves will see him emerging stronger from the national party congress, freer to pursue more balanced growth and boost spending on health, education and other services long-neglected in the headlong drive for economic growth.

Monday’s announcement of a new leadership lineup marks the end of months of often-divisive in-house bargaining over high-level posts that saw Hu purge Shanghai’s party chief.