National People's Congress Chairman Qiao Shi said a formal farewell to politics yesterday after handing over the reins of the Chinese Parliament to outgoing premier Li Peng. But even though Mr Qiao, 73, will be without an official position, sources said he had made plans to influence politics by organising informal clubs of party elders. The former Politburo No 3 opened the preparatory session for the Ninth NPC and then retired after Mr Li, 69, was elected executive chairman of the parliamentary presidium, which will oversee the two-week congress. 'I have accomplished my mission,' Mr Qiao, who is not a deputy, told the meeting in the Great Hall of the People. 'It is now the executive chairman's duty to continue presiding over this meeting. I'm taking my leave.' Mr Qiao and Mr Li then shook hands as the 165 presidium members burst into applause. Xinhua said the presidium expressed its thanks to Mr Qiao for 'improving the people's congress system as well as China's democracy and legal system'. Mr Li, who will be elected NPC chairman on March 16, will oversee the opening of the NPC today and Mr Qiao will attend only in the capacity of an 'invited guest'. But political analysts said that despite his retirement, Mr Qiao would continue to wield formidable influence. His protege Tian Jiyun, a Politburo member, was elected secretary-general of the presidium yesterday. While a long-standing political foe of Mr Li, Mr Tian is expected to be given a new five-year term as NPC First Vice-Chairman. Sources said Mr Qiao had also made plans to form one or more informal clubs of party veterans that could be based in Guangdong. 'While touring Guangdong early this year, Qiao raised the possibility of setting up informal centres of retired cadres in cities such as Guangzhou and Shenzhen,' a source said. 'Qiao supporters in the avant-garde province have already raised large sums of money for the clubs.' A Guangdong source said a number of liberal retired cadres close to Mr Qiao, including former president Yang Shangkun, were spending more time in the southern province. 'Qiao and his associates such as Yang Shangkun and [former NPC chairman] Wan Li could make Guangdong a base from which to challenge the Beijing line,' he added. Two other Politburo members, Wei Jianxing and Li Ruihuan, are also considered to be close to Mr Qiao. Messrs Qiao, Tian and their associates have claimed that they alone, not Beijing, are upholding the market-oriented edicts of Deng Xiaoping.