The Central Committee of China's Communist Party on Thursday designated Xi Jinping its new general secretary, the official Xinhua news agency said.

The decision means that Xi, 59, will assume the presidency of China in March 2013, succeeding Hu Jintao, who on Thursday leaves his party leadership posts, the first step in the transition from the fourth generation of communist rulers to the fifth.

The naming of Xi as the party's new president has been expected for months, and on Thursday it was announced that he will also be president of the Central Military Commission, the entity that oversees the armed forces of the Asian giant.

Xi and the other six members of the Communist Party Permanent Committee appeared before the press on Thursday in the Great Hall of the People, where the party held its just-concluded congress.

In his first speech as party chief, Xi praised "the character and will of the Chinese people during their 5,000 years of history" and expressed his intention to continue with the process of reform and economic opening that Beijing has been pursuing in recent decades. EFE