In October 2007, China’s most powerful decision making body, the Politburo Standing Committee, announced its newest members. First among those announced was Xi Jinping. This subtle move was the party’s way to show it favored him to succeed President Hu Jintao. When Mr. Xi was suggested for the presidency, however, he was drafted for a seat that would not be his until 2012.
Xi’s succession would normally not be news after so long, yet at this year‟s meeting of the Communist Party, the Chinese leadership gave its strongest suggestion that Xi’s ascension was all but certain. At last week’s annual meeting of China’s highest officials, Xi was appointed to the vice chair of The Central Military Commission. The post has been the position traditionally occupied by those who will take charge of China in the coming years, including current president Hu. This practice is traditional in China; it allows the party to groom the heir apparent.
Xi is a savvy party member; his father was a leader of guerillas before the communist takeover in 1949, but was purged after supporting critics of the incidents at Tiananmen Square. Xi successfully worked around this potential setback; learning from his father’s mistakes, Xi proved his effectiveness as a loyal party member of Beijing during his administration of Shanghai.
His appointment and history suggest a man willing to follow the traditions of the Communist Party. This behavior may also provide predictions of how he will handle China‟s two looming domestic problems – its economy and its political system. At the present, both make China enviable as a world power, yet within the next ten years (the average term of China’s president) both will present serious issues. China cannot spurn foreign overtures and rely on exports forever. Eventually, it must make the transition to a consumer-based economy and gain additional capital through outsider investment.
The political outlook of China is more ominous. The party has a schism between more open-minded reformers like Wen Jia-bao, the Premier of China, and traditionalists like Hu Jintao. Xi’s presidency will come at a crossroad between the two, and his decisions will directly influence the direction the party takes.
Under this context, the rest of the world should value knowing this much about a future leader. Other governments can capitalize on this gift of foresight by attempting to understand Mr. Xi and predict how he will handle the challenges ahead. If the rest of the world can grasp these aspects of Xi, they can also cultivate personal relations with him. These personal relations may provide a valuable opportunity to encourage China to become a more considerate participant in the world community. Warm relations with the president may pay dividends in him being more willing to hear other countries’ concerns. However, should he be greeted by the world with a cold shoulder, he may respond in kind. A standoffish China would be unwilling to open itself to needed economic or political reforms.