BEIJING, March 14 (UPI) -- China's new leader Xi Jinping, 61, seen as a reformist, Thursday took over as president, becoming the most powerful man in the country of 1.3 billion people.
Xi's rise to power comes at a time when the country faces numerous challenges. He along with six other members of the powerful Politburo Standing Committee will lead the country in the coming decade.
Xi's election by the National People's Congress or Parliament to succeed outgoing President Hu Jintao was a foregone conclusion and completed China's once-in-a-decade leadership transition.
Xi became general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party at the party's annual congress last November. He also became head of the powerful Central Military Commission, which oversees China's huge military establishment with an annual budget of $114.3 billion, officially up 10.7 percent from the previous year.
Earlier this week, Xi urged the country's armed forces to be "absolutely loyal" to the Communist Party, sharpen fighting capacity and abide by disciplines. He said soldiers must be at full military readiness to ensure victories in any wars.
The Parliament also elected Li Yuanchao as China's vice president. The 63-year-old is currently a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee.
The challenges facing Xi, regarded as a "princeling" because of his family background, include a slowing export-driven economy following years of explosive double-digit growth that made China the world's second-largest economy after the United States, widening income disparity, rampant official corruption, complex foreign policy questions such as dealing with the U.S. pivot to the Asia-Pacific region, growing public demand at home for openness and transparency, and ethnic tensions as witnessed by the spate of self-immolations by Tibetans protesting Chinese rule of their land and violence between the Han and Uighurs.
The Communist Party has ruled China under a one-party system since the founding of the PRC in 1949.
Xi's second in command will be Li Keqiang, 57, an economist who will succeed Wen Jiabao as premier Friday. The reduction in the size of the Standing Committee to seven from the previous nine should help Xi and Li deal with fewer dissenting voices.
In his meeting with business leaders after last November's party congress, Xi called for accelerating economic restructuring through deepening reform and enhancing law enforcement.
On official corruption, Xi's predecessor, Hu, had warned, "If we fail to handle this issue well, it could prove fatal to the party, and even cause the collapse of the party and the fall of the state."
In a government report earlier this month to the current session of Parliament, outgoing Premier Wen set an economic growth target of 7.5 percent for this year and promised to create more than 9 million new urban jobs and keep the urban jobless rate at or below 4.6 percent.
Wen said while China remains "in an important period of strategic opportunities," it also faces difficulties and problems including "unbalanced, uncoordinated and unsustainable development" and "increasing conflict between the economic growth and environment" as well as the conflict between downward pressure on economic growth and excess production capacity.