18th Party Congress

Xi soaks up limelight on first day in charge of nation

Millions watch live broadcast of debut speech and the change of tone is startling

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 November, 2012, 5:13am

When he finally showed up and led a cast of new communist leaders to the stage, newly elected party chief Xi Jinping wore a determined and confident look, smiling and waving.

The 59-year-old leader apparently enjoyed having the spotlight of the world's media trained upon him and appeared ready for the top party and military jobs.

His debut came just minutes after he was confirmed as the party leader - a role he takes over with immediate effect - and had obviously been carefully orchestrated to present him in the best possible light.

For many mainlanders watching Xi's first TV appearance after his ascent, the speech highlighted a huge difference in personality between Xi and Hu Jintao , the man he will replace as president in March.

While Hu has always appeared tense, even shy in front of the cameras, Xi clearly knew how to work his charm.

And although Xi's short speech yesterday was, as is the norm, packed with party rhetoric and clichés, his tone was a far cry from Hu's mechanical drone.

Hu is a notoriously bland speaker who avoids any public display of emotion in favour of long, monotonous speeches.

In contrast, Xi, sounded, well, human. Facing an audience of hundreds in the Great Hall of the People and with millions more listening to the live broadcast, he began his first public speech in power with a greeting.

"Hello everybody. We've made you all wait," Xi said, apologising for the almost hour-long delay to the start of the show.

Analysts noted Xi's rather impressive debut will probably give the princeling leader more leeway when he has to confront the many pressing and demanding challenges ahead that require a lot more than media savvy and personal charisma to handle.

Xi was, however, not the only Politburo Standing Committee member on stage who won applause.

Newcomers Yu Zhengsheng and Wang Qishan , both princelings as well, were the main standouts. They almost overshadowed Li Keqiang , who now ranks second in the pecking order and is on track to replace Premier Wen Jiabao in March. Yu and Wang were all smiles, greeting the media with slight nods of their heads when introduced by Xi.

Beijing-based historian Zhang Lifan praised Xi's "relaxed" speech but noted that for all the charm on display, Xi's debut was a turnoff in one area - the conspicuous absence of a question-and-answer session.