The 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China — essentially the supreme decision-making mechanism within the party — concluded on Thursday, confirming the appointment of Xi Jinping to succeed Hu Jintao as China’s leader. The week-long congress formally named Xi as the party’s general-secretary and, surprisingly, also appointed him chairman of the Central Military Commission ( CMC ), a break from the long-held tradition in which departing party leaders hung on to the military post to hold influence over their successors.
The appointment of Xi as CMC chairman will obviously give him a freer hand to consolidate his authority as first among equals on the Politburo Standing Committee ( PBSC ) — the apex of power within the party’s national leadership. Beside Xi, the congress also named six other PBSC members, including Li Keqiang, the nation’s presumptive premier and chief economic official; Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang; and Vice Premier Wang Qishan, who was also named to head the party’s internal watchdog panel.
The new lineup of the PBSC, according to analysts, is heavy on conservatives and leaves out reform-minded politicians who are allies of Hu Jintao, suggesting that the party leadership is unlikely to substantially liberalize the authoritarian Chinese government. Except for Xi and Li, who are both in their 50s, the rest of the leaders are in their 60s and will reach the party’s unofficial retirement age by the time of the next congress in 2017.
As significant reforms will unlikely be taken by the new leadership, Xi will also unlikely tone down his predecessor’s foreign policy, particularly in dealing with border disputes with neighboring states, with the South China Sea and the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands disputes being the paramount ones.
China is projected to surpass the United States as the world’s No. 1 economy within the next 15 years. It is also aggressively building up its military power to be on par with the US. Those charted achievements should not come at the cost of anxiety for the rest of the world — particularly those in dispute with China — but should foster balanced global power and global peace instead.