UK & World News
China Set To Unveil Xi Jinping As New Leader
President Hu Jintao of China has stepped down as the general secretary of the Communist Party as the country concludes its once-in-a-decade leadership transition.
At the ceremony in Beijing's Great Hall of the People next to Tiananmen Square, President Hu made the last few procedural steps in passing the responsibility of governing the world's most populous country to a new generation of leaders.
Xi Jinping will be unveiled as the party's new general secretary at another ceremony on Thursday and will formally take over as Chinese president in March.
The new leadership team, who will be paraded in front of the world's cameras at the ceremony, is the so-called Fifth Generation: a group of middle-aged men who are tasked with ruling 1.3 billion people.
Their job will be to ensure Communist continuity, five generations after the revolution which brought Chairman Mao to power.
However, their challenge will be to balance a strong but slowing economy with growing resentment over corruption, an urban-rural wealth gap and continued calls for wholesale political reform.
The method through which the Communist Party chooses its new leaders is extremely opaque.
The party's 80 million members represent just 6% of the country's population, and it is they who have some say over who in their community rises up each of the thousands of different party organisations.
With a pyramid effect fewer and fewer people endorse those who will sit above them. Today it was the turn of 2,000 very senior delegates to choose the 200 who will rise above them.
From that 200, the Politburo of 26 will be selected and, in turn, from that the Standing Committee of just seven will be endorsed.
Given how confusing and opaque that is, it is rare to get a glimpse of the process in action.
But along with other international news organisations, Sky News was granted brief access to the Great Hall of the People on Wednesday.
The trip involved a dawn pick-up from a Beijing hotel. A fleet of government buses took the waiting media across Beijing, around Tiananmen Square and into the Great Hall complex.
We passed through several high-tech security searches and then queued in the Hall's corridors for three hours.
From the windows we could see the fleets of black Audis used to ferry the delegates around town. Audi has become the preferred make of car for all those with power in Beijing.
The Great Hall itself is an awesome sight. Imagine the grandest of theatres and then quadruple the size. On the stage, in perfect uniformity, sat the 200 Central Committee members.
From our distant vantage point, it was quickly clear that binoculars would have been useful. Each of the figures was simply a dot in a grey suit. It was not even possible to tell which of the men (and they are almost all men) was speaking.
With impressive unison all 200 delegates raised their hands together in one single motion as they agreed to endorse different reports.
We watched this spectacle inside the Great Hall for just an hour: a tiny glimpse inside the Communist machine as it appoints the man who will lead the country for the next 10 years.