© 2021 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Xi Jinping Assumes China's Leadership Post


China has introduced its new leaders to the world. Over the next decade, they'll set the agenda for the world's second-biggest economy. The leadership change comes at an uncertain moment for China - including internal power struggles, an economic slowdown, and multiple corruption scandals inside the Communist Party.

Many people will be watching, to see what the new leadership does now; and NPR's Louisa Lim was at their first public appearance.


LOUISA LIM, BYLINE: I'm in the Great Hall of the People for this moment of pure political theater. In just a few minutes, China's new leadership committee will file out, onto a stage. These are the group of people who will determine the direction of the world's second-largest economy. But even at this late stage, no one knows for sure who will be on that committee, or even how many people will be on that committee. It's a sign that even in the Internet era, Chinese politics operates within a black box.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Now, please join me in a warm applause, to welcome the Standing Committee members.


LIM: The moment of truth. Seven men file onto the stage, headed by party leader Xi Jinping. It's a smaller group - seven, instead of nine, men - to streamline decision-making. But these dark-suited men are largely seen as conservatives. The wildcard, however, is the new leader, Xi Jinping. In his speech today, he didn't once mention Marxism or Mao Zedong thought.

XI JINPING: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: We will fight for people's desire to have better lives, he said, and he vowed to tackle the many severe challenges facing the party.

XI: (Through translator) The problems among our party members - and cadres - of corruption, taking bribes, being out of touch with the people, undue emphasis on formalities and bureaucratism - must be addressed with great efforts.

LIM: Xi's also taken up the position of army head, vacated in a surprise move by his predecessor, Hu Jintao. This strengthens Xi's hand. But the makeup of his gang of seven, will disappoint those hoping for sweeping reform.

ZHANG LIFAN: (Through translator) The possibility of reform is now an illusion. Judging from personal appointments and amendments to the party constitution, hopes of reform are very remote.

LIM: That's historian Zhang Lifan. He fears a lack of reform could be catastrophic.

ZHANG LIFAN: (Through translator) It's really like the Soviet Union before its collapse. Some reformist officials are blocked from being promoted. By the time they get to a position where they can effect reform, the whole situation will be different.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: When it comes to economics, the new man in charge of the day-to-day portfolio is Zhang Gaoli. Coming from Tianjin, his approach has exemplified the old school of borrow and build - what some might call the China bubble. Here's Patrick Chovanec, from Tsinghua University.

PATRICK CHOVANEC: He comes from being the party boss of Tianjin, and Tianjin pursued - kind of the old model of very heavy borrowing to finance huge infrastructure and construction. If you're looking for a sign that we're going to see some reform, and shifting away from that model - we don't know what he'll do, but he certainly doesn't come from a reform background.

LIM: Over the past week, the party congress has offered up remarkable displays of sycophancy, including this delegate weeping over his poem.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: It had been inspired by a 64-page-long speech given to the congress. But there's been remarkable apathy from the public, who feel removed from the political process. But one congress delegate - scientist Zhang Xueji, who's returned to China after two decades in Florida - assured NPR that change is coming.

ZHANG XUEJI: China will have an economic reform. Definitely, they will do it. But for political reform, I think of it as step by step, in future.


LIM: China's political season is over, for now. But given the age of its new leaders, the horse trading may start again soon. Five of the seven-strong leadership committee will likely have to retire in five years' time. The real question is, what kind of change they'll have the mandate to pursue before then.

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Beijing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.