Xi Jinping moves one step nearer top post

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 October, 2010, 12:00am

Vice-President Xi Jinping looks set to be China's next top leader after he was named vice-chairman of the Communist Party's Central Military Commission (CMC) yesterday.

The party leaders also reviewed and approved a draft of the next Five-Year Programme for 2011-2015, in which they called for measures to boost domestic consumption and economic restructuring to maintain stable and relatively fast economic development, according to a communiqu? released yesterday at the close of the annual plenum session of the party's Central Committee.

Amid rising pressure for substantial political reforms at home and abroad, the statement said the party would 'actively but steadily' promote political restructuring, but did not elaborate.

Xi's latest promotion may mark the beginning of the second orderly transition of power in the history of the People's Republic.

With the vice-presidency together with a leading role on the Central Committee's powerful Secretariat, the latest military promotion will cement his status as the successor to take over power in 2012, when the party's 18th congress is scheduled.

That congress will see the transition of power from the fourth generation of leadership under President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao to the fifth generation - including Xi and Li Keqiang, who is currently the executive vice-premier.

The first orderly transition took place in 2002, when Hu took over as the country's leader from Jiang Zemin after Hu, hand-picked by the late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping , became a vice-chairman of the CMC in 1999. 'This has already grown into a standard practice,' Hu Xingdou, a university professor and social commentator in Beijing said. 'So Xi's accession to the Central Military Commission comes as a matter of course.

'And if you recall the situation in Mao's time, what we've seen today reflects such a progression.'

For the short term, other political analysts said Xi, 57, is expected to continue to keep a low profile and defer major decisions to Hu in the next two years.

After assuming power in 2012, however, they said he would face even more daunting tasks than Hu to steer the world's second-largest economy forward.

Domestically, his leadership will face an uphill battle to rebalance the economy to boost domestic consumption and better protect the environment, while ensuring the economic benefits would be shared more by poor people, to boost the legitimacy of the ruling party.

He is also going to face more pressure for political reforms as more and more liberals have argued that the lack of such reforms has greatly contributed to rampant corruption and social injustices, which have seriously threatened that legitimacy.

Internationally, as a rapidly rising power in the world, the international community would also be keen to hear and see China define its new role and relations with other countries in more positive ways.

Compared with Jiang and Hu, who had no military experience before becoming military leaders, Xi has already had high-level military experience.

He was once the personal assistant to Geng Biao then CMC secretary general and minister of national defence from 1979 to 1982.

The Shaanxi native - the son of former vice-premier Xi Zhongxun, who was a close ally of Deng - shot up from relative obscurity as a local official in Fujian and Zhejiang before being made party leader in Shanghai in early 2007. The elder Xi died in 2002.

Many attribute Xi's rise to the fact that he is one of the few people accepted by all factions in the top echelons of power.

Xi belongs to the powerful princeling group, whose members include Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai and Vice-Premier Wang Qishan.

He is also connected to Jiang, leader of the powerful 'Shanghai Gang'.

Xi has generally kept a low profile since being installed as one of the top national leaders. But he also has been known for his occasional outspokenness, something that would be a marked change in style if he did succeed Hu.

While on a visit to Mexico in February last year, Xi hit out at overseas critics, telling a crowd of overseas Chinese that there were 'a few foreigners with full bellies who have nothing better to do than try to point fingers at our country.'

'China does not export revolution, hunger, poverty, nor does China cause you any headaches. Just what else do you want?' he said.