Will China's Xi Jinping be different?

Xi Jinping led the new members of the Communist Party's new Politburo Standing Committee at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, 15 November 2012 Mr Xi is being seen as more relaxed and at ease than previous leader Hu Jintao

As Xi Jinping walked out to be presented as China's new leader, one thing was immediately clear to all of us waiting in the Great Hall of the People. His will be a different style of leadership from that of his predecessor Hu Jintao.

Mr Xi was immediately more relaxed and at ease than the man he had just replaced as general secretary of China's Communist Party. Where Mr Hu often appeared stiff and wooden, Xi Jinping smiled and even apologised for keeping his audience waiting.

If he was nervous or awed by the prospect of ruling over one-fifth of humanity, there was no sign of it. At one point, he even seemed to become a little emotional while he was delivering his speech.

Perhaps it is Xi Jinping's pedigree as a Communist Party "princeling" - his father was a revolutionary hero alongside Mao Zedong and a powerful figure in the party - that means he seems more comfortable in his own skin.

Start Quote

Very few people know about who China's new leader will be, what he thinks - it's very smart for any incoming leader not to show his cards, and he's very smart”

End Quote Minxin Pei Claremont McKenna College

Certainly, Xi Jinping has worked all his life for this moment. Rising through the party, he's been groomed for the top.

'More personality'

And when he spoke, Mr Xi seemed to signal a new tone, too. He was more direct, more plain-speaking, more blunt.

There was still some of the jargon of old, that the party must "continue to liberate our way of thinking... further unleash and develop the productive forces... and steadfastly take the road of prosperity for all".

The content was similar to Hu Jintao's outgoing speech last week. But it still sounded different when Xi Jinping warned "the problems among party members and cadres of corruption, taking bribes, being out of touch with the people, undue emphasis on formalities and bureaucracy must be addressed with great efforts".

Mr Xi tried to show he understands the bread-and-butter issues that most people care about. "Our people... yearn for better education, stable jobs, more satisfactory income, greater social security, improved medical and healthcare," he said.

Bo Zhiyue of the National University in Singapore says Xi Jinping will be a different type of leader.

"He has more personality. He is a regular person. He can work with anyone he meets. He is a very down-to-earth person. He is easy to get along with."

Political personality

But, of course, substance and results will matter more than style. On that score there was no detail, no policy proposal, no idea how he will bring about the changes he talked of.

Paramilitary policemen standing guard in front of the giant portrait of former Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong at Beijing's Tiananmen Square, 15 November 2012 A change of power in China is rare, as it happens only once a decade

But if Mr Xi is able to connect with China's people in a way Mr Hu couldn't, that will be important. It may give him more room to carve out a political personality of his own that would give him more authority as leader.

What will matter, then, is what sort of vision he has for China: something we simply don't know.

There is, of course, a temptation to read too much into tiny things. A change of power in China is rare, it happens only once a decade. Every time there are hopes the new leaders will bring change.

A little more than a decade after the trauma of the Tiananmen massacre, when Hu Jintao came to power, he was seen as a possible reformer.

Now, though, as his decade has drawn to a close, his time is widely seen as a missed opportunity and attention has turned to the new generation.

'Very smart'

Xi Jinping has risen to the top by keeping a low profile, says Minxin Pei of Claremont McKenna College in California.

"Very few people know about who China's new leader will be, what he thinks. It's very smart for any incoming leader not to show his cards, and he's very smart."

And he says the fact that Mr Xi is the first among equals in a new Standing Committee of seven will also make this leadership inherently conservative.

"The new leadership looks in all likelihood to be a carefully balanced coalition, and a carefully balanced coalition is not a structure that is conducive to very decisive policy making," he added.

New members of the Politburo Standing Committee,  15 November 2012 The Politburo Standing Committee now has seven members

The reduction in the Standing Committee from nine to seven men may make it easier to reach consensus and so take some tougher decisions. The past decade is widely seen as one of paralysis. But on that score, we'll have to see.

What we do know from the other six new leaders is that they seem to contain a balance - the product of months of secret negotiations and compromises.

Some are from the supposed Jiang Zemin faction, some from the Hu Jintao faction, some may be conservative-minded and unwilling to pursue reforms, others are more reformist economic managers.

There are "princelings" and those from more humble backgrounds.

The message to take away from this is that compromise and consensus seem to be the order of the day.

It is worth noting that the candidates said to be most in favour of reform, like Wang Yang and Li Yuanchao, did not make it into the final seven. Both are young enough that they could still be elevated to the Standing Committee in 2017.

But it means the final line-up is being seen as relatively conservative, and less inclined towards change.

However the five new members on the Standing Committee are all relatively old. They may all serve only one term and have to retire in five years' time. Xi Jinping and the new number two, Li Keqiang, will be around for 10 years.

So the day in five years' time, when Xi Jinping leads out the members of the next Standing Committee from behind that closed door, may be the day when he really cements his authority as China's leader.

Damian Grammaticas Article written by Damian Grammaticas Damian Grammaticas China correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 38.


    You will probably find that the US and other foreign investment just wanted to exploit the cheap labour China has to offer.

    I think China's government is very smart and this is shown by the pace the country has changed also by the investment China makes i.e London Heathrow Airport. Obviously people will get rich in the process and it will take time for poorer peoples lives to change. But where will China be in another 30 years time?

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    36"The country has developed at light speed compared to anywhere else in the world."

    Yes with the help of US and other foreign investment part of it went from the 10th century to the 20th century in a matter of just 30 years. But socially and politically it's still back in the 10th century.And so are the rural areas where 500 million people live on about a dollar or two a day.BTW, much of its infrastructure that looks so modern is shoddily built junk. The price has been turning it into the most massive toxic waste dump in the world.It will never be cleaned up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.


    When the car bubble burst in the UK and second hand cars became affordable it raised the standard of living for poorer people. This will happen in China.

    The country has developed at light speed compared to anywhere else in the world.

    And how many of the 1.3bn Chinese have been jumping off dormitory roofs? If you check the world suicide rates China is not at the top, but you don't know how accurate Chinese records are. Go check for yourself if you think I'm talking rubbish.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    This is what I wrote on Topix.com 12/09/2012 earlier in the year when Zi Jinping disappeared for two weeks, we still don't know why?!

    Zi Jinping was going to be (literally) a breath of fresh air,

    But that didn't go down too well...with the old "Politburo".

    Because they don't want change, they want the same,

    They don't want new...no, they want the old to remain...

    They don't want a future, that's a breath of fresh air,

    Now you know the reason, Zi Jinping; hasn't been seen

    For the past two weeks, "Anywhere"?!

    PS. I too see major protests in both China & Russia & a nuclear Iran in 2013.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Why are so many Chinese taking English lessons? Is it to read Shakespeare in his native language? Is it to be able to understand all the nuances watching re-runs of Dallas? Why was the goddess of democracy at Tiananmen Square a replica of the Statue of Liberty, icon of the USA? Why doesn't the Chinese government want anyone to talk about Tiananmen Square? Liberties will be extended only to facillitate making money. But there's a limit to what you can impose on one freedom and results you can expect from another.Without real democracy China will remain a job shop, cheap labor and no real laws.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    31"...now they have 2 cars each, its only a matter of time before this happens in China"

    I think it far more likely with the way things are going it Europe that it's only a matter of time before the Welsch are back to riding bicycles.

    "China has moved light years ahead of most countries"

    You must be joking.When many Chinese become rich their first instinct to to move out of the country and live elsewhere.Many poor feel the same way and pay snakeheads.I don't hear of factory workers jumping off dormatory roofs to commit suicide because life is too horrible to bear in other countries.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    About how to pronounce "xi" in chinese is approximately "si" not "she". Even Wikipedia is making the same mistake. Go ask a Chinese person.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.


    Am I the only person living in China who sees the inherent contradictions between a purported 'communist' or 'socialist' country and the massive gap between the rich elite with their Gucci, Lamborginis etc and the majority who cannot afford to buy to have a small car?

    Is it time to redefine the words 'socialist' or 'communist'?

    I'm in my early 30's and when I was going up in Wales hardly anyone living near me had cars, now they have 2 cars each, its only a matter of time before this happens in China, China has moved light years ahead of most countries but it will slow down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    China is CINO - Communist in Name Only (with apology to the Republican Party for misusing their acronym RINO). Is China a dictatorship - you bet it is !

    There is no doubt China can reform. One need not look further than what they did to their economic system and the results in the last 25 years. It will be foolish for us to rule out any ant political reform in the next 25 years. China will make significant adjustment to its system of governance, if it deem necessary to preserve the party in power. It will not look like the system in the West, but China will change.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    27 The Chinese Communist Party can punish dissent at home but only can try to stiffle it abroad.For example by critizing an official vist by the Dali Lama to other governments.Also many people who feel free to criticize other countries, the USA for example don't like it with others crticize theirs. That's the problem of free speech, people can say what they think.

    China is engaged in a cyber war with the USA.The USA may be getting ready to fight back.Cyber war has become a military issue in the USA.China is a large supplier of arms to terrorists and terrorist states like Iran.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    26 How large a nation's economy is depends on how you measure it.GDP only shows how much wealth was produced on a nation's territory, not how much it keeps.GNI is the actual income it earns.China's GNI is only about 15% of its GDP and GNI per capita for China is very low.PPP is a poor indicator too, all nations pay the same on the world market for items like crude oil.

    Most advanced technology in China was stolen from other countries by spies, mostly from the USA.China's space program is 50 years behind the USA's and Russia's.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Xi Jinping qoute
    "There are some bored foreigners, with full stomachs, who have nothing better to do than point fingers at us … First, China doesn't export Revolution; second, China doesn't export hunger and poverty; third, China doesn't come and cause you headaches, what more is there to be said? "

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    And yet despite all these misgivings from someone like Sieuarlu China has managed to prosper with double digit economic rise over 30yrs, lisfted 600 million people out of poverty, bying up America's dept, has a manned space program, building their own GPS system, has 2 stealth fighter programs, aircraft carrier programs, overtook Japan to become the 2nd largest economy in the world and likely to become the largest by 2018.
    If they are doing something wrong it is in the eyes of envious foreigners.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Sieuarlu is speaking lots of sense.

    China’s closest friends are North Korea, Pakistan & Iran. They don’t have any true friends in the world because of their atrocious regime which disregards the dignity in humans beings. Even Russian, who are also communist, are distrustful of China’s and their rise. The US is forming closer ties with Burma, Thailand and Cambodia now which is sure to annoy China. Seems like they have also abandoned their project that will provide China’s south with energy resources to focus on opening up to the international world and eventually become a democracy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    22 In addition to having read much about China over a very long period, I have many friends who've been there, some many times. I also get a lot of information from the BBC. As someone living in a free country I have unfettered access to the internet without censorship and access to any and every book no matter how unpopular or offensive some may find them. My views are therefore not constrained by someone else's idea of what I should think.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Politicians who rise through the CCP ranks are recommended to study the ‘Thick Black Theory’. It is the art of claiming power by any means. I am sure Xi is a practitioner.
    "When you conceal your will from others, that is Thick. When you impose your will on others, that is Black (Dark)." According to Chin-Ning Chu, the 'Thick Black Theory' describes the ruthless and hypocritical[1] means men use to obtain and hold power: "thick faces" (shamelessness), "black heart" (ruthlessness), according to author's view of history.


  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Your comments look as though you know a lot about China and her leaders but the bottomline is, the comments are quite comical. You clearly know very little about China and just open your big mouth just to attract attention.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Among China's external enemies it is in conflict with are India, Taiwan, Japan, the Phillipines, Vietnam, the US, and possibly eventually Russia over its border. There may be others. China's bold aggressive policy is a very dangerous move. The US alone still has the power to bankrupt China quickly just as it bankrupted Cuba, the USSR, and now Iran. A trade embargo would spell the end of China's economy.US and other foreign industrialists would have to move their factories elsewhere.For other reasons some already are.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    New Tone? Maybe. But Same Old Tune. They will still make aggressive overseas territorial claims (hundreds of miles from their shores). They will continue to steal western copyright products. They will continue to fix their currency. They will continue to violate Tibet's culture. They will .... well you get the idea.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    China bankrupted its markets for cheap mass produced consumer goods, strongly depends on the outside world for fuel and food, has an aging population, and incomprehensible language that's intimidating to learn, is thoroughly corrupt, has polluted much of its arable land, depends entirely on foreign technology, has far too many people.Where's the future? How can it sustain rapid growth or even survive.It's surrounded by enemies, has many internal ethnic and soon class conflicts.It's long term outlook is bleak.Is radical change that might alter this likely? Not in a mindless dictatorship.


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