November 15, 2012.
Beijing: Xi Jinping has walked on stage after a fraught and unexpected delay to take the reins of the world’s most powerful political organisation.
Mr Xi replaces Hu Jintao as General Secretary of the Communist Party, which has dominated China since 1949.
Mr Xi kept the world waiting for nearly an hour to emerge at the East Room of the Great Hall of the People at 2.53pm AEST.
Mr Xi said he and six others had just been “elected” to the Politburo Standing Committee, the inner sanctum of the power, by a meeting of the 204-member Central Committee. He lauded China’s contribution to global civilisation and specifically ‘‘the great renewal of the Chinese nation’’ under Communist Party rule, as he faced selected Chinese and international journalists.
The dramatic delay in Mr Xi’s entrance gave rise to another feverish round of speculation about last-minute wrangling. It caps what has been a year of unprecedented scandals, murky conspiracies and apparently brutal internal struggle.
This is the largest leadership transition in the history of the People’s Republic and the first to take place beyond the guiding hands of the founding revolutionaries It has unfolded amid an enormous security and censorship campaign, highlighting the challenge Mr Xi faces in reconciling the party’s monopoly on political power with the widening aspirations of Chinese people.
Chinese intellectuals have been gagged and placed under added surveillance.
Foreign journalists have reported higher-than-usual incidences of email accounts being hacked and greater attention from Chinese intelligence officers.
Google and its Gmail services have intermittently joined the growing list of inaccessible internet platforms, along with Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, The New York Times and Bloomberg.
Mr Xi brings to the job a degree of personal confidence that stems in part from his upbringing as a member of the ‘‘red aristocracy’’. He enjoys good relations across China’s political spectrum but has so far given few clues about how he intends to tackle what is one of the world’s most challenging jobs.
His task is to respond to the rising assertiveness and confidence of Chinese citizens while maintaining the party’s absolute political dominance and protecting the interests of powerbrokers who hoisted him into the job.
Mr Xi spoke of the Chinese people’s desire for material prosperity, social services and material living standards but avoided mention of broader aspirations.
Mr Xi also introduced the remaining six members of the Politburo Standing Committee – downsized from nine under Hu Jintao – who followed him on stage in hierarchical order.
Second on stage was Li Keqiang, who is expected to take over from Wen Jiabao as premier in March.
Third was Zhang Dejiang, expected to take charge of what has historically been a rubber-stamp parliament. Fourth was Yu Zhengsheng who, like Mr Xi, enjoys an impeccable revolutionary lineage, and is slated to take charge of the “united front” portfolio which controls entrepreneurs, religious groups, ethnic minorities and others outside the party.
They were followed by Liu Yuanshan, the long-time head of the Propaganda Department; Wang Qishan, who has until now presided over China’s financial system; and Zhang Gaoli, the former party boss of Tianjin municipality.
The new generation leadership is defined by their mostly brutal adolescent experiences during the Cultural Revolution. They have also enjoyed a much broader education than the outgoing leaders, who were almost exclusively trained as engineers.
Most of the new leadership is closely aligned to 86-year-old Jiang Zemin, who ostensibly retired a decade ago but has emerged to outmuscle his successor, Mr Hu, in shaping the new leadershp team.
The stakes are high for all nations in the Asia-Pacific, with China on track to overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy during Mr Xi’s expected decade-long term. China already dominates the Australian economy to a greater extent than any other country since the 1950s, buying 30 per cent of Australian exports and boosting export prices to levels not seen since Federation.