In November 2002, the 16th Communist Party Congress elected Hu Jintao, who in 1992 was designated by Deng Xiaoping as the "core" of the fourth generation leaders, the new General Secretary. A new Politburo and Politburo Standing Committee was also elected in November.
In March 2003, General Secretary Hu Jintao was elected President at the 10th National People's Congress. Jiang Zemin retained the chairmanship of the Central Military Commission. At the Fourth Party Plenum in September 2004, Jiang Zemin retired from the Central Military Commission, passing the Chairmanship and control of the People's Liberation Army to President Hu Jintao.
China is firmly committed to economic reform and opening to the outside world. The Chinese leadership has identified reform of state industries and the establishment of a social safety net as government priorities. Government strategies for achieving these goals include large-scale privatization of unprofitable state-owned enterprises and development of a pension system for workers. The leadership has also downsized the government bureaucracy.
The Chinese Communist Party’s 17th Party Congress, held in October 2007, saw the elevation of key “fifth generation” leaders to the Politburo and Standing Committee, including Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang and Wang Yang. At the National People’s Congress plenary held in March 2008, Xi was elected Vice President of the government, and Li was elected Vice Premier.
China’s economy continues to grow rapidly in the twenty-first century. In the past few years, its GDP has maintained an annual growth rate of about 10%. China has the third largest economy in the world after the United States and Japan with a nominal GDP of US$3.7 trillion (2008) when measured in exchange-rate terms. It has the world's second largest economy with a GDP of over $7.1 trillion (2007) when measured on a purchasing power parity (PPP) basis. At the same time, numerous social problems emerged and intensified. As President Jiang Zemin gradually retired from his position of power, "fourth-generation" leaders, led by President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, faced with increasing social unrest, attempted to steer the country towards a new direction. From the path of focusing solely on economic development, Hu and Wen placed focus on creating an overall balance under the idea of the Scientific Development Concept to create a harmonious society. In this process, there was an unprecedented shift in stance towards favoring rural development and farmers, as well as other generally populist policies.
China’s increased prominence on the global stage has also brought with it general skepticism and intense scrutiny, especially in the lead up to the 2008 Summer Olympics and after the March 2008 protests in Tibet. The government continues to be criticized on human rights abuses and the various product quality scandals that have increasingly damaged the country's integrity and continues to raise suspicions about the country's safety standards. The majority of China's population, however, point to the immense progress the country has made and generally discredit criticisms of China as being embedded in cultural and historical misunderstandings and rooted in paranoia of China's potential dominance on the world stage. These ideological clashes, fused with rhetoric from Beijing, has led to an intense wave of nationalism (or patriotism) surfacing in Chinese populations around the world.