BEIJING — China unveiled its new generation of leaders on Thursday, installing Xi Jinping as Communist Party chief, following a weeklong historic party congress that gave few clues about the country’s future direction.
In a debut ceremony at the Great Hall of the People, Xi and six other men were revealed as the new members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the central group at the top of decisionmaking for China’s government. Xi, 59, will complete his ascension to president of China during the National People’s Congress next March, succeeding Hu Jintao after a decade. Vice Premier Li Keqiang is expected to succeed Premier Wen Jiabao, and the size of the standing committee has been reduced from nine to seven members.
Beyond the new titles, faces and basic biographies, little is known about how this new group will lead China.
The candidates for core posts who were believed to be potential reformers, in the end, did not make the cut, indicating that China’s government is apt to continue on a similar path. Chinese leadership also chose to keep its exclusive ruling body to men only, shutting out the one woman who was seen as having a chance at a spot on the Standing Committee. A second woman was added to the larger Politburo, a group of 25 members, but no female official has ever been appointed to the key decision-making Standing Committee.
Xi spoke to several-hundred journalists assembled at the Great Hall of the People for the unveiling, but took no questions from reporters. In his remarks, he said China’s new leadership faces serious challenges, including government corruption and responsiveness.
“Our responsibility now is to rally and lead the entire party and the people of all ethnic groups in China in taking over the relay baton passed on to us by history, and in making continued efforts to achieve the great renewal of the Chinese nation, make the Chinese nation stand rock-firm in the family of nations, and make even greater contribution to mankind,” he said.
“Our people have an ardent love for life. They wish to have better education, more stable jobs, more income, greater social security, better medical and health care, improved housing conditions, and a better environment,” Xi continued.
“They want their children to have sound growth, have good jobs and lead a more enjoyable life. To meet their desire for a happy life is our mission. It is only hard work that creates all happiness in the world,” he said.
Xi’s remarks were long on generalities and mostly devoid of specifics. In the months to come, it may become clearer where he will take the world’s second-largest economy. But few are expecting any major departures from the current course.
In one surprise move, it appears that Wang Qishan, who has served as a counterpart in bilateral meetings to U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, will not be in charge of economic issues. Instead, Wang has been tasked with party anti-corruption efforts.
As the 18th Party Congress began a week ago, President Hu Jintao outlined the party’s economic goals. Of particular note, he said China must double its per capita income by 2020, but gave no specifics on how that will happen. In addition, economic officials in a news conference last week reiterated the country’s plans to move from a manufacturing-based economy to one more centered on innovation.
Hu also gave a nod to the notion that private businesses need as much access to capital as state-owned companies, which often have an easier time getting loans from China’s big banks. In his speech, Hu called on private firms to have “equal access to factors of production.”
Sidney Rittenberg is an American who has watched China’s Communist Party since its early days of power, first as a journalist and translator close to the party’s founders, living here from 1944 to 1979. Today, Rittenberg, 91, runs a consultancy that helps American companies doing business in China.
In an interview, Rittenberg said economic reforms are critical for China’s next phase, particularly those to help private companies.
“They need to free up and to support private enterprise,” he said. “It’s the fastest growing, most profitable sector of the economy, but it’s very hard for them to get credit from state banks.”
At the same time, China’s systemic government corruption is a major issue to be managed. Both the outgoing Hu and the incoming Xi keyed on the issue in their public addresses, but the real details of how they will deal with that, and with major economic issues, are likely being hashed out behind closed doors.