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He's getting star treatment in Europe. Russia's President Vladimir V. Putin took time to discuss terrorism with him. Queen Elizabeth is giving him a private audience at Buckingham Palace.

The target of Europe's enthusiasm is China's vice president, Hu Jintao. This former engineer excites interest because he is widely expected to be China's next leader.

Hu has been groomed for a decade as successor to President Jiang Zemin, who is expected to start handing over power next year. At 59, Hu is young enough that he could rule China for 15 years.

The five-nation European tour is a carefully scripted diplomatic debut for Hu, and a sign that he is closer than ever to taking power.

"He is being introduced to the world as the successor of Jiang Zemin," said Joseph Cheng, director of the Contemporary China Research Center at the City University of Hong Kong.

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