New style for China's new leader

Fri, Nov 16, 2012, 00:00

ANALYSIS:Xi Jinping, the new leader of China, was three-quarters of an hour late on stage in the Great Hall of the People to meet the gathered press corps.

It would have been long enough to translate the 1954 poem Beidaihe Waves, written by predecessor Mao Zedong and inscribed on an ink-and-brush painting of mountains and sea in the East Hall.

“Bleak autumn wind is this, but the world has changed!” it runs, a destiny-laden line above the painting of the coastal area where the Great Wall ends by tailing off into the sea.

All the speculation was about whether there would be seven or nine committee members, but the seven markings on the stage, not visible on TV but obvious in the East Hall, was a giveaway.

Even still, the once-a-decade leadership change still caused a frisson of excitement when Xi and the six other men who will form China’s new collective leadership walked in a line on to the red-carpeted stage, stage left.

When he does start to speak, China’s new man of destiny is much more relaxed in front of the media than his predecessor, Hu Jintao.

He apologises for being late, then launches into a speech that emphasised Communist Party unity and repeats the commitment to fight corruption, always cited as people’s biggest beef with the ruling party.

“Our responsibility now is to rally and lead the whole party and the Chinese people of all ethnic groups to take up the baton passed on by history, to continue to liberate our way of thinking and to carry on reform and opening up,” he says.

“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 health care, improved housing conditions and a better environment.”

Even though Xi was named as Hu’s successor five years ago with his appointment to the standing committee, there have been myriad scandals and twists and turns in the meantime, and nothing is ever written in stone in China.

Xi’s confidence must in part stem from the fact that his mandate to rule the 82 million- member organisation appears solid. His appointment as chairman of the military commission was only revealed in the handouts at the end of the presentation, when his chairmanship of the Central Military Commission was one of the jobs listed in his CV.

Immediately taking over the military like this marked a break from the recent tradition of retiring leaders holding onto the post for a transitional period to extend their influence. It meant outgoing leader Hu Jintao would relinquish all positions of power, which gives Xi a lot more elbow room to bed down his authority.

The style of the Xi era is definitely different. Now to see if the substance has changed.