APFrom left, members of the new Politburo Standing Committee Zhang Gaoli, Liu Yunshan, Zhang Dejiang, Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang, Yu Zhengsheng and Wang Qishan meet journalists in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People on Thursday Nov. 15, 2012.
APNew Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping speaks at the press conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, on Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012.
Xi Jinping, the 59-year-old “princeling” son of a former Politburo member, was on Thursday unveiled as the new General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and as the head of the party’s Central Military Commission, marking an end to a once-in-ten year leadership transition process.
Mr. Xi and six other top leaders who will constitute the Party’s highest body – the Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) – were presented as the faces of the party’s next generation of leaders, as outgoing leader Hu Jintao relinquished his posts as head of the CPC and chairman of the military.
The Party has reduced the size of its elite inner circle of leaders from nine to seven, underscoring long-discussed moves, analysts said, to make the top body more efficient and nimble, and less riven by competing factional interests that were seen as stalling reform moves.
The composition of the new PBSC was along expected lines, filled by four officials close to former leader Jiang Zemin and two others who rose under outgoing General Secretary Hu Jintao. This reflects the continuing influence the two leaders will wield from behind the scenes even as Mr. Xi, known as a moderate, pragmatic and consensus-building leader, looks to make his mark . Mr. Hu will continue serving as President until March.
Mr. Xi was flanked by second-ranked Li Keqiang (57), who will take over as Premier when Wen Jiabao steps down at the March Parliament session. The other members of the party’s inner circle, in order of rank, were announced as: Zhang Dejiang (66), the Chongqing Party Secretary; Yu Zhengsheng (67), the Shanghai Party Secretary; Liu Yunshan (65), a senior propaganda official; Wang Qishan (64), a Vice Premier in charge of economic affairs; and Zhang Gaoli (66) the Party Secretary in Tianjin.
The seven leaders emerged to meet the press from the first meeting of the newly selected 18th Central Committee, which was chosen at Wednesday’s closing session of the week-long National Congress. At the plenary meeting, the 376 members of the Central Committee approved the selection of the PBSC and the 25-member Politburo – a process widely seen as a formality with the list of leaders thought to be finalised after months of bargaining between the party’s various interest groups. Former leaders Mr. Hu and Mr. Jiang have both been pushing for their allies to secure top posts.
In his first speech as the head of the party, Mr. Xi thanked the CPC for the trust placed in the new leadership and spoke of “severe challenges” the new generation of leaders will face. “The Party members’ trust and the whole nation’s great expectations are a source of tremendous encouragement, and place enormous responsibility on our shoulders,” he said. “Our people yearn for better education, more stable jobs, more income, greater social security, better medical and health care, improved housing conditions, and a better environment. They want their children to have sound growth, have good jobs and lead a more enjoyable life. The people’s desire for a better life is what we shall fight for.”
“China’s great renewal”
Mr. Xi made three references in his brief address to “the great renewal of the Chinese nation” and the party’s role in China’s revival, suggesting that the theme – popular with Chinese nationalists – might emerge as a rallying point under his leadership as the CPC looks for new ways to renew its legitimacy amid rising concerns on inequality and corruption.
The party, Mr. Xi said, had “rallied and led the Chinese people in transforming the poor and backward old China into an increasingly prosperous and powerful new China, opening a completely new horizon for the great renewal of the Chinese nation”. “Our responsibility now is to rally and lead the entire Party and the people of all ethnic groups in China… in making continued efforts to achieve the great renewal of the Chinese nation, make the Chinese nation stand rock-firm in the family of nations, and make even greater contribution to mankind.”
Mr. Xi also called for unity in the party as it looks to close ranks to address pressing challenges, following a complicated transition process that saw intense bargaining among competing factions. “We are well aware that the capability of one individual is limited,” he said. “But when we are united as one, we will create an awesome power and we can certainly overcome all difficulties”.
Four of the top seven leaders of the new PBSC are known in China as “princelings” – the relatives of former leaders who are seen as having particularly close ties to former President Mr. Jiang – in an indication of the continuing influence of a select group of “revolutionary families”.
Mr. Xi’s father, Xi Zhongxun, was a former Vice Premier who pushed for economic reforms. Mr. Zhang Dejiang’s father, Zhang Zhiyi was a PLA General. Mr. Yu, the Shanghai Party Chief, comes from a family with long political influence: his grandfather was a defence minister under the Kuomintang while his father, Huang Jing, was a senior official. Mr. Wang, who will head the party’s internal disciplinary body, is the son-in-law of Yao Yilin, a former Vice Premier.
Second-ranked Mr. Li Keqiang and Mr. Liu Yunshan, the propaganda official, come from less connected backgrounds, and forged ties with outgoing Party Secretary Hu Jintao in the Communist Youth League. Three other allies of Mr. Hu missed out on a spot on the PBSC. They were, however, named among the 25 members of the Politburo. Li Yuanchao, the head of the Organisation Department, Guangdong Party Secretary Wang Yang and State Councillor Liu Yandong, who all rose through the Youth League, are on track to join Mr. Xi and Mr. Li in the PBSC in 2017, when the five other members are likely to retire.
The two youngest members of the new Politburo were Inner Mongolia Party Chief Hu Chunhua, a protégé of Mr. Hu Jintao, and Jilin Party Chief Sun Zhengcai. Both 49-years-old, they will likely be the only members of the Politburo still below retirement age when Mr. Xi and Mr. Li are scheduled to step down a decade later. Besides Ms. Liu Yandong – who was the only female representative in the previous Politburo – the only other woman member was Sun Chunlan, the Party Chief in Fujian province. There were no representatives from any of China’s 55 minority groups.
Mr. Xi on Thursday outlined several “severe challenges” the new leadership will face, highlighting “problems among party members of corruption, taking bribes, being out of touch with the people, and an undue emphasis on going through formalities and bureaucratism”. To address the problems, party members “must first of all conduct ourselves honorably” and “maintain close ties with the people”.
The party, he said, had “every reason to be proud” of its accomplishments in leading a revival of the Chinese nation. “Proud,” he added, “but not complacent”.