(Reuters) - China's ruling Communist Party unveiled a new leadership line-up on Monday, including two men positioned to eventually succeed President Hu Jintao and government head Premier Wen Jiabao.
Xi Jinping, who has been chief of Shanghai, and Li Keqiang, who has headed the northeast province of Liaoning, were lifted into the new nine-member Politburo Standing Committee -- the innermost ring of power in this top-down state.
While Xi, 54, and Li, 52, have not been openly designated to replace Hu and Wen five years hence, their age and status leave no doubt they are favoured to reach the apex of power with Xi the frontrunner for now to take Hu's top job.
They will inherit a nation of about 1.4 billion people, including restive peasants and a maturing middle class, an increasingly open and market-driven economy likely be the world's third largest and a one-party state that claims loyalty to Marx while it embraces capitalism.
"Comrades Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang are two quite young comrades," was all carefully spoken Hu said of them when presenting them before hundreds of reporters and flashing cameras.
Their rise marked Hu's growing grip on power as he shed the residual influence of his predecessor, Jiang Zemin. But the next five years will test Hu's power to secure an untroubled succession in an era when no leader commands absolute loyalty.
"Hu's power has emerged greatly consolidated," said Li Datong, a former editor at a Party paper. "He has his own line-up now; Jiang's out of the picture."
The nine men in dark suits emerged after a tightly controlled vote by the 204-member Party Central Committee, installed at the end of the Party's five-yearly Congress on Sunday.