Challenge for China's new leader is maintaining growth
ASIA BRIEFING:Watching Xi Jinping make his first address as China’s new leader, in the East Room of the Great Hall of the People last week, it was hard not to be struck by the opportunity that his appointment offers to Ireland.
For many years, Ireland’s trade agencies have worked hard to boost the country’s profile in the world’s second biggest economy, despite the fact that our links to China are thin and our size means it is not well known.
Yet China’s new supreme leader not only knows where Ireland is but has also played hurling, visited an Irish farm and is aware of what this State has to offer in terms of access to the euro zone and as an investment opportunity for Chinese firms.
Great as his affection for Ireland may be, it is not likely to be top of his list of priorities right now.
With his elevation to general secretary of the Communist Party of China and chairman of the party’s military commission, Xi has a muscular mandate to rule the world’s most populous country for the next decade.
But China is facing its biggest economic challenges in many years.
In 2002, it trailed the US, Japan, Germany, Britain and France in sixth place among the world’s economies. Research by Frost Sullivan released this month suggests China is set to become the largest economy in the world by 2025. Its gross domestic product is now $7.3 trillion (€5.73 trillion), five times more than when Xi’s predecessor Hu Jintao assumed power. However long-term economic growth is slowing and everyone is wondering what line Xi will take to revive economic growth.
For now he is focusing on the traditional communist notion of “serve the people”. “Our people have an ardent love for life. They wish to have better education, more stable jobs, more income, greater social security, better medical and healthcare, improved housing conditions and a better environment,” he said after his appointment.
“They want their children to have sound growth, have good jobs and lead a more enjoyable life. To meet their desire for a happy life is our mission. It is only hard work that creates all happiness in the world.”
Economic data in the run-up to the leadership transition has taken the edge off the debate about the need for reform. Fourth-quarter GDP growth looks set to be stronger than the third quarter as net exports seem to be recovering.