Xi assumes top military and party roles
Xi Jinping was unveiled as China’s new leader yesterday, assuming the top posts in the Communist Party and the People’s Liberation Army and given the job of steering the world’s most populous nation through ever more treacherous waters.
Mr Xi leads a slimmed-down standing committee of the politburo after a political transition unaffected by scandals, a slower economy and growing clamour for reform.
In a speech steeped in communist rhetoric, Mr Xi struck a combative tone in describing how the party would deal with the problems facing the world’s second biggest economy, using the language of struggle and power.
“To be turned into iron, the metal must itself be strong,” Mr Xi told journalists in the East Hall of Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, shortly after he had been named general secretary of the Communist Party.
“Every bit of happiness in the world is created by hard work – the people’s desire for a better life is what we shall fight for.”
The other five members of the standing committee are Li Keqiang, who will later assume the premiership from Wen Jiabao; vice premier Zhang Dejiang; Shanghai party boss Yu Zhengsheng, propaganda minister Liu Yunshan; vice premier Wang Qishan, who will also head up the anti-corruption panel, and Tianjin party chief Zhang Gaoli.
Mr Xi has also taken immediate control of the People’s Liberation Army, unlike his two predecessors, which, combined with the streamlined standing committee – cut to seven members from nine – puts him in an unusually strong position, which could help him implement reforms.
He takes over the fifth generation of leadership of the party and the military from Hu Jintao and he will assume the presidency in March at the annual parliament, the National People’s Congress.
Mr Hu and premier Wen Jiabao spent much of their decade in power trying to appease his predecessor Jiang Zemin, who did not relinquish his position as head of the military until two years into the Hu-Wen administration.
Mr Xi will be able to rule unimpeded, without constantly looking over his shoulder.
He faces a number of enormous challenges heading into office, including a need to keep economic growth ticking over, cutting a yawning wealth gap between rich and poor, combating rampant corruption in the party ranks and easing tensions with neighbouring Japan over disputed islands.
Also, there is the Bo Xilai situation to be resolved.
Threat to stability
The background to the once-in-a-decade leadership transition has been the biggest threat to the stability of the party since the 1989 crackdown on democracy activists, the purging of the Chongqing party boss and one-time rising star Bo from the Politburo in April.
Mr Bo’s wife was convicted in August for the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood and Mr Bo, himself once a genuine contender for the standing committee, was expelled from the party.
He now faces trial for corruption and abuse of power, something Mr Xi will be forced to deal with early in his administration.
There were a couple of surprise omissions from the standing committee, the innermost circle of power in China’s authoritarian government, including two reformist protégés of Hu Jintao – party organisation head Li Yuanchao and Guangdong party chief Wang Yang.
Both were opposed by conservative, anti-Hu elements but are considered young enough to have a shot in five years.
The significant seven: The men who will lead China for the next 10 years
The son of veteran revolutionary leader Xi Zhongxun, Xi Jinping has been given a strong mandate as general secretary of the Communist Party and head of the Central Military Commission.
Irish people will recognise the tall, burly Xi from his landmark visit in February, which will have acted as a powerful boost to Sino-Irish relations.
His wife, folk singer Peng Liyuan, is more famous than he is, but probably not for much longer.
A native of the poor, dusty province of Shaanxi, Xi (59) was raised in privileged circumstances in Beijing as a “princeling” before his father, who was deputy prime minister, fell out of favour with Mao Zedong.
He was banished to the countryside to learn peasant virtues, and forced to swap his comfortable life in the city for sleeping on bricks in a cave.
He subsequently went on to study chemical engineering at Tsinghua University and later gained a degree in Marxist theory and a doctorate in law.
His career included stints as provincial party chief in Hebei and the coastal provinces of Fujian and Zhejiang provinces, which allowed him to witness at close quarters economic reform in action.
He cemented his reputation as a graft-buster in Shanghai in 2007 when he became party boss after predecessor Chen Liangyu was felled in a corruption scandal.
He is a compromise candidate, bridging the party’s factions.
Vice premier Li Keqiang (57) is expected to take over from Wen Jiabao in March. He too was sent to work in the countryside during the Cultural Revolution.
The son of a local cadre, Li rose to prominence after studying law at Peking University. During the crackdown on the student-led democracy movement in 1989, he was involved in trying to mend ties between the Communist Youth League and the student protesters.
Zhang Dejiang (65), party chief in Chongqing, succeeded the disgraced Bo Xilai after his purge. He studied economics in North Korea at Kim Il-sung University and was previously vice premier of the state council.
The son of a People’s Liberation Army general, Zhang was implicated during his time in Guangdong province in efforts to conceal the Sars epidemic.
Yu Zhengsheng (67) is party boss in China’s financial hub, Shanghai. He survived the defection of his brother to the US in the mid-1980s. He joined the politburo in 2002.
Another “princeling” with close ties to both former presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, he also has links to the late Deng Xiaoping’s family through Deng’s son, Deng Pufang.
Liu Yunshan (65) heads up the propaganda and ideology portfolio for the standing committee and once worked as a Xinhua news agency reporter. He also spent time banished to the countryside in Inner Mongolia during the Cultural Revolution. He will be closely watched to see if he steps up control of the internet.
Yet another princeling, Zhang (64), a former mayor of Beijing, has previously worked in financial sector as head of the state-owned China Construction Bank and has been elected to head up the fight against corruption.
Some say this is because he has no children who could benefit from his position.
The party chief of the northern port city of Tianjin, where he was worked to transform the city, Zhang (65) has been a politburo member since 2007 and is seen as a Jiang Zemin ally but also acceptable to Hu Jintao.
A trained economist, he has been party chief and governor of eastern Shandong province and vice governor of Guangdong.