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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 October 2007, 11:36 GMT 12:36 UK
China's rising stars tight-lipped
Xi Jinping (L) and Li Keqiang
Xi Jinping (L) and Li Keqiang are widely tipped for high office
Two men widely expected to join China's next generation of top leaders have given no hint of their future prospects at a key political gathering.

Shanghai Communist Party boss Xi Jinping and his counterpart in Liaoning Province, Li Keqiang, are both tipped for high office.

But they ducked questions on whether they would join the politburo standing committee, China's top political body.

Both men are attending the party's 17th congress, held to endorse new policies.

They were speaking separately at meetings of their regional delegations, held to discuss a keynote speech given on Monday by President Hu Jintao to mark the opening of the five-yearly congress.

Great Hall of the People

Both men made cautious comments and repeated statements voiced by President Hu, the party's general secretary.

"In the process of promoting economic development, we must promote a harmonious society," Mr Li was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

The phrase "harmonious society" refers to the president's belief that more people should share China's economic development.

Widespread speculation

Mr Xi, who became party secretary in Shanghai earlier this year, repeated another one of President Hu's favourite phrases - scientific development.

"We are taking additional steps to explore and expand on the theory of scientific development and bring it to its full fruition," said the 54-year-old, according to the Associated Press.

MAJOR THEMES OF THE CONGRESS
Promoting 'social harmony'
'Scientific development'
Building a 'well-off society'
Consolidation of President Hu's position

There is widespread speculation about who will join the politburo standing committee - a line-up that will be announced when the week-long congress ends.

But such is the secrecy surrounding the selection of new leaders that no-one knows for sure even if the number of seats on the standing committee - currently nine - will stay the same.

Xi Jinping and 52-year-old Li Keqiang were not the only ones showing their support for President Hu. Chinese newspapers were also loyal.

The day after the president gave his speech at the opening ceremony of the congress, most newspapers ran almost identical front pages.

HAVE YOUR SAY
China should realise the importance of democratic checks and balances if it wants to take its rightful place among strong nations
N.G. Krishnan, Bangalore, India

Headlines, photographs and even page layouts bore striking similarities.

They repeated Mr Hu's call to "struggle to build a relatively well-off society".

China's state-run Xinhua news agency published a report proclaiming that the president's work was highly regarded by ordinary people.

"Without the leadership of the party, people in Tibet would not have the happy life we enjoy today," Xinhua quoted 72-year-old party member Basang Cering as saying.

Internet users seemed less likely to lavish praise on the party.

"In the evening I watched the news and saw that as soon as the 17th party congress opened, salaries were up, prices were stable, houses were cheaper and people were happier," wrote one web user.

"It would be good if there could be a party congress every day."

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