Thoughts from the Chairman: All Eyes on Xi as China's New Leaders Take Power

  • Freeman Report | Issue 4 | November 2012
    Nov 30, 2012


    All Eyes on Xi as China’s New Leaders Take Power
    By Christopher Johnson, Freeman Chair in China Studies

    On November 15, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) unveiled its new, slimmed-down Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) to the world. During his first public remarks as the newly-minted CCP General Secretary, Xi Jinping won plaudits—from both domestic and foreign audiences—for speaking candidly about the many challenges facing the CCP, and for deliberately avoiding the kind of ideologically-laced rhetoric that has featured so prominently in the speeches of his predecessors. Many observers have suggested this approach underscores Xi’s innate confidence as a leader whose “princeling” status imbues him with a born-to-rule leadership style. With the new leadership lineup no longer a mystery, the new favorite parlor game in Beijing and among foreign China watchers is to speculate on whether Xi will embrace reform to tackle the laundry list of mounting social and economic problems that are steadily eroding the CCP’s legitimacy with the Chinese populace.

    But is it reasonable to focus so intently on Xi? After all, much of the analysis in the wake of the 18th Party Congress has emphasized that he will likely be as constrained as departing President Hu Jintao was when the latter took power at the last transition a decade ago. Why will this be so? Xi is surrounded by PBSC colleagues he did not choose. He also must negotiate with not just one, but two retired general secretaries (Hu and former president Jiang Zemin) whose interests must be taken into account. Both of these statements are true, but they may lack substantial explanatory power beyond the simple facts of the matter. In fact, if there is any lesson we should take from the unfolding transition, it is that past precedent may not be the best indicator of future developments or performance. The new PBSC configuration is a stark reminder that Chinese politics, despite some modest tweaks to make the process more regularized and predictable, remains a largely informal and highly-personalized affair. Continued...( Read Newsletter as PDF)

    China in the Multilateral Development System
    CSIS 4th Floor Conference Room                                              
    Monday, December 3, 2012, 2:30 p.m.–3:30 p.m.
    For further event details and to RSVP, please click here.

    The CSIS-Schieffer Series: China's Leadership Transition and Looking Ahead at U.S.-China Relations 
    CSIS B1 Conference Room
    Tuesday, December 4, 2012, 5:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.
    For further event details and to RSVP, please click here.

    Book Event: U.S.-China Relations After the Two Leadership Transitions: Change or Continuity?
    CSIS B1 Conference Center
    Monday, December 17, 2012, 4:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
    For further event details and to RSVP, please click here.

    Video: China's 18th Party Congress - Watch Freeman Chair Chris Johnson’s interview about China’s leadership transition in this November 9, 2012 CSIS Small Screen Session. 

    Event Video: Reordering Chinese Priorities on the Korean Peninsula - Watch the November 30, 2012 report rollout and panel discussion featuring Bonnie Glaser, Scott Snyder, Marcus Noland, and Chris Johnson. *Note: the video for this event may not be available until after December 3rd.* 

    Watch Christopher Johnson’s November 15th PBS Newshour interview on China’s leadership transition.

    Click here for more news commentary from Christopher Johnson and Bonnie Glaser.


Find More From:

Christopher K. Johnson

Bonnie S. Glaser