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Thursday, 21 February, 2002, 08:24 GMT
China's heir apparent to visit US
Hu Jintao on a visit to the UK, October 2001
Mr Hu visited the UK in October 2001
The man expected to succeed Chinese President Jiang Zemin as Communist party leader later this year, Hu Jintao, is expected to visit the United States within months.

Mr Hu, China's vice president and deputy chairman of the powerful committee that runs the country's military, will travel to the US at the invitation of Vice President Dick Cheney.

Chinese Vice President Hu Jintao
Very little is known about Hu Jintao
Mr Jiang - who has accepted a separate invitation to the US in the October - said Mr Hu's visit would take place "in the near future" but did not specify when.

Mr Jiang is expected to retire as party chairman this autumn, and then step down from the presidency in 2003.

But he is likely to remain influential as he is set to remain in charge of the armed forces until 2007.

Mr Hu has not been officially put forward as a successor, but correspondents see him as the favourite.

The invitation to the US is being seen as another sign that he is being groomed for the top job.

Powerbase

Little is known about 59-year-old Mr Hu. He has never given a news conference, nor offered any kind of media interview.

In 1988 he became the first non-military leader to run Tibet following anti-Chinese riots there.

Mr Hu presiding over return of ashes of Chinese journalists killed in Belgrade Embassy bombing
Tough talk from Mr Hu following Belgrade embassy bombing
He brought in martial law and suppressed subsequent uprisings against Chinese rule.

Mr Hu became vice president in 1998 and the following year became deputy chairman of the Central Military Commission.

Analysts credit his rise largely to having avoided belonging to one faction in the Communist Party, thereby maintaining a decent power base.

One of his most memorable public appearances on national TV was after the 1999 Nato bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade.

At the time he read out a statement, authorising demonstrations outside the US and British embassies in Beijing.

Mr Hu has not yet held official meetings with the US leadership, but he has been building informal contacts.

Last month he met a small group of former US officials, including two former ambassadors to Beijing.

See also:

16 Feb 02 | Media reports
Hu Jintao: Hardliner or liberal?
10 Dec 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: China
15 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Timeline: China
06 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
China builds Tibet 'liberation' statue
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