Xi Jinping, the 59-year-old “princeling” son of a former Politburo member, was on Thursday pronounced the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the head of the party’s Central Military Commission, marking an end to a once-in-a-decade leadership transition process.
Mr. Xi and six other leaders, to constitute the Party’s highest body — the Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) — were presented as the faces of the 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 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 seen as stalling reform moves.
The composition of the 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, in order of rank, were announced as: Zhang Dejiang (66), Chongqing Party Secretary; Yu Zhengsheng (67), 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), Party Secretary in Tianjin.
The selection of the seven leaders and the 25-member Politburo was approved at a meeting of the newly appointed 376-member 18th Central Committee, which was chosen at Wednesday’s closing session of the week-long National Congress. The approval was seen as a formality, with the list of leaders thought to be finalised after months of bargaining among the Party’s various interest groups. Mr. Hu and Mr. Jiang have both been pushing for their allies to secure 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. “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”, he said. “The people’s desire for a better life is what we shall fight for”.
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 ways to renew its legitimacy amid rising concerns on inequality and corruption.
He also 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”.
The Party, Mr. Xi said, had “every reason to be proud” of its accomplishments in leading a revival of the Chinese nation. “Proud”, he added, “but not complacent”.