BEIJING (Reuters) - Two men widely tipped as future leaders of China gave glimpses of their agenda on Tuesday, promising gentler, more environmentally sound growth, a contrast with the get-rich-quick attitude of recent boom years.
But Shanghai Communist Party boss Xi Jinping and his counterpart in northeastern Liaoning province, Li Keqiang, fended off or avoided questions about their own political futures, despite intense media interest.
Both stuck closely to President Hu Jintao's key themes at a Party Congress which opened this week -- the need for a "harmonious society" that spreads wealth more equally, and a "scientific outlook of development" that balances growth with environmental sustainability.
Still, neither even came close to suggesting China turn its back on the reforms that have made it into a global trading powerhouse and world's fourth-largest economy. Growth was still vital to lift parts of the country from poverty, they said.
"In the process of promoting economic development, we must promote a harmonious society," Li said at a delegation discussion on Hu's opening speech to the Congress.
"The goal of our development is for the people to enjoy the benefits of development," added Li, looking relaxed as he fluently poured forth statistics, goals and slogans.
Xi, who was parachuted into his job earlier this year after predecessor Chen Liangyu was dramatically sacked for corruption, said glamorous and wealthy Shanghai would not forget its poorest and do more for the environment.
"Scientific development is all about people. We must pay more attention to people's livelihoods ... like disadvantaged groups, people in the countryside and others in difficult situations," Xi told the session.
"Although Shanghai's energy consumption versus economic growth fell by the third best margin in the country -- a good result -- we still have not completed the task as set by the central government," he added.
Under Chen's leadership, Shanghai snubbed central government efforts to cool the economy and rein in investment, and pushed a series of high profile projects, such as a Forumula One race track and high-tech magnetic levitation express train.
"Consumption is playing a bigger role in driving the economy than investment. Investment growth continues to fall to what we would expect. These are good changes," said Xi, wearing a pair of trousers which appeared a bit too short for him.
Xi only spoke once at the meeting -- to answer the question on Shanghai's development -- and left by a side door to avoid questions on his possible elevation later this week to China's top echelon of power, the Standing Committee.
Li, also named by sources with close ties to the leadership as a potential premier or president in 2012, brushed off queries about his future.
"We're following procedures and answering questions about Comrade Hu Jintao's report to the Congress," Li said, while his colleagues giggled nervously.
Another rising star, Guangdong province's North Korea-trained economist Party chief Zhang Dejiang, was equally circumspect.
"Guangdong is a great place, and full of hope. I love Guangdong and will not forget Guangdong," a smiling Zhang told a throng of reporters who surrounded him and asked about his future, overturning tables in the scrum to reach him.
(Additional reporting by Vivi Lin)
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