China’s got a new man, too! Xi Jinping takes presidency with promise to use ‘Chinese Dream’ to grow middle classes and become more powerful than US and Europe
- 59-year-old takes over from Hu Jintao as China’s head of state
- Elected by delegates at rubber-stamp parliament with only one vote against
- Already held supreme power over country as head of Communist Party
PUBLISHED: 03:00 EST, 14 March 2013 | UPDATED: 05:52 EST, 14 March 2013
Xi Jinping was today officially appointed as president of China, sealing his position as the most powerful man in the world’s largest country.
The new leader, who has taken over from Hu Jintao, will be charged with promoting the ‘Chinese Dream’ which will propel hundreds of millions of China’s citizens into the middle class over the coming decades.
The ruling Communist Party hopes that China’s growing economic will help it become more powerful than the West, with some analysts predicting that the country will overtake the U.S. and Europe by 2030.
Since coming to prominence last year, Xi has made a point of spending time with poor Chinese in an attempt to reassure them that they will share in the country’s growth and enter the middle class.
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Xi’s promotion came as no surprise after the former vice-president was named head of the Communist Party and chairman of the Chinese military last November.
‘I’m very happy. With President Xi leading us, China will be more prosperous and more powerful,’ said Zhang Rihong, one of the 3,000 delegates to the National People’s Congress in Beijing.
Though Xi, 59, is now formally in charge, big challenges remain for him within the party’s top ranks – in which powerful people are often divided by patronage, ideology or financial interests.
He has pledged to tackle the endemic graft which he says is detrimental to the party’s survival, according to Willy Lam, a China politics watcher at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
XI JINPING, THE ‘LEADER OF THE UNFREE WORLD’
Xi Jinping, the most powerful man in China, is a 59-year-old Communist Party loyalist and son of a famous revolutionary leader.
He was born in 1953 to Xi Zhongxun, a political leader who helped overthrow China’s government in 1949 and later held a number of senior positions.
Xi grew up in Beijing and studied chemical engineering at Tsinghua University, joining the Communist Party at the age of 21.
As is customary, he spent many years as a party official in various provincial areas – but also visited a small town in Iowa to research American agriculture.
Xi’s big breakthrough came in 2000 when he was appointed governor of Fujian province, subsequently becoming party chief in Zhejiang and then Shanghai.
In 2007 he was appointed to the all-powerful Standing Committee of the Politburo, and became vice-president the next year, putting him first in line to take the top job during the handover of power to the next generation which took place last November.
Graft is deeply ingrained in the party’s patronage-based culture and those at the top – many of whose families have benefited from their political connections – are believed to be most resistant to anti-corruption measures that diminish their prerogatives.
‘He has to walk a fine line,’ Lam said. ‘If he were really serious about going after senior cadres, he might establish his authority within the rank and file. However, that would also jeopardize his relationship with the power blocs and with the holders of vested interests.’
Xi’s accession marks only the second orderly transfer of power in more than six decades of Communist Party rule.
He was the only candidate for president in Thursday’s ballot in the country’s figurehead parliament. The delegates voted 2,952-to-1 for Xi in a political ritual designed to echo the views of the party leadership.
After the result was announced, Xi bowed to delegates and turned to Hu, seated next to him. The two of them shook hands and posed for photos.
Xi, the son of a veteran political leader instrumental in the progress of China’s revolution, was also appointed chairman of the government commission that oversees the military.
Li Yuanchao, a liberal-minded reformer and a close ally of Hu, was named vice-president. Controversially, Li is not in the party’s seven-member ruling inner sanctum.
Xi takes charge at a time when the public is looking for leadership to address sputtering economic growth and mounting anger over widespread graft, high-handed officialdom and increasing unfairness.
A growth-at-all-costs model that defined the outgoing administration’s era has polluted the country’s air, waterways and soil, adding another serious threat to social stability.
‘At present, the party and the government have very little public credibility,’ said Zhang Ming, a China politics expert at the prestigious Renmin University in Beijing. ‘The way to regain credibility is to at least show some results, but at this point that can’t be seen and I predict there won’t be any real results later.’
Ahead of the votes on the government’s top slots, legislators approved a government restructuring plan only four days after it was introduced.
Among other things, the plan abolishes the Railways Ministry and combines two agencies that regulate newspapers and broadcasters into a super media regulator. It also merges the Health Ministry with the commission that oversees the one-child law.
In a reflection of China’s growing international engagement, the role of president has evolved since the 1990s from being purely ceremonial to a position which lends legitimacy to the government and draws attention away from the Communist Party.
‘As China opens up and becomes more engaged in the international community, it’s just impractical, it’s not convenient, for a party head to meet a foreign head of state,’ said Warren Sun, an expert on Communist Party history at Monash University in Australia.
Xi effectively became the country’s top leader in mid-November after ascending to the helm of the ruling Communist Party, which holds ultimate power in China.
The son of a revolutionary veteran, Xi cuts an authoritative figure with a confidence and congeniality that was lacking in his predecessor, the aloof and stiff Hu. He quickly moved to court the military after taking over from Hu as head of the party’s Central Military Commission, making high-profile visits to naval, air force and infantry bases.
Xi has also sought to please other constituencies. He made a trip to the south to show he’s interested in economic reforms, repeatedly stated his staunch belief in party power to appeal to hardliners, visited the poor to burnish his common-man credentials and espoused the ‘Chinese Dream’ to tap into middle class aspirations.
But for Xi to consolidate his power within the party, he will come up against various interest groups such as the sons and daughters of communist China’s founding fathers who want to keep benefiting from their connections, or those with links to banks and state industries who don’t want their privileged positions threatened.
Ideologically, there are those who believe China needs an even stronger, more authoritarian government that promotes more egalitarian economic and social policies. Others want a transition to more democratic government.