Chinese President Hu Jintao formally stepped down as head of the Communist Party on Wednesday, setting the stage for Vice President Xi Jinping to take the country's top leadership post.
Addressing the final day of the party's week-long congress, President Hu told delegates at Beijing's Great Hall of the People they should be unified as China embarks on its once-a-decade leadership transition.
“We should free up our minds, implement the policy of reform and opening up, pool our strength, overcome difficulties, firmly march on the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and strive to make progress in building a moderately prosperous society in all aspects.”
Vice President Xi Jinping is expected to succeed Mr. Hu as party chief on Thursday and take over as president in March, while Vice Premier Li Keqiang is set to become the next premier, replacing Wen Jiabao.
Xi and Li will almost certainly be named to China's most powerful decision-making body, the Politburo Standing Committee, which will be unveiled at a ceremony Thursday.
Despite intense speculation, little else is known about the makeup of the elite committee, which currently stands at nine members. Its members are determined by the party's core group of elders in a completely behind-the-scenes process.
China's new leaders will take over at a time of slowing economic growth and widening public anger at corruption and other government abuses.
The transition has also been complicated by a high-profile scandal involving senior politician Bo Xilai, who is accused of helping his wife cover up the murder of a British businessman.
Bo, who had been expected to take a top spot during the transition, is expected to soon stand trial on a series of charges, including corruption and abuse of power.
Party leaders have used the 18th Party Congress to focus heavily on preventing corruption. President Hu said at the opening speech of the week-long meeting that corruption could be fatal to the Communist Party if it is not dealt with.
At the closing meeting of the Congress, the party amended its constitution to tighten oversight of officials. The amendment said the party should “attach greater importance to conducting oversight of cadres,” saying this would help improve the public's trust in the party.