Xi Jinping has been elected General Secretary of the Communist Party of China and will also now be the country’s commander-in-chief, making him de facto leader of the world’s most populous country.
In a no-surprise promotion on Thursday, veteran politician Xi was confirmed to be China’s paramount leader for the next 10 years. Wearing a dark suit, he led the new seven-man Central Politburo Standing Committee – the highest decision-making body in China, composed of senior state officials – to their unveiling in the monumental Great Hall of the People.
Xi has also been named chairman of the Central Military Commission, putting China’s military under his control. The news comes as the Communist Party of China (CPC) wrapped up its 18th congress.
The 59-year-old son of the late communist elder Xi Zhongxun, Xi Jinping is part of the “princeling” generation – offspring of figures who played key roles in bringing the Communist Party to power in 1949.
Like many other young educated Chinese, he was sent to live in the countryside to live and work in exile alongside peasants during Chairman Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution of 1966-76.
In his acceptance speech, Xi admitted that the Communist Party has its problems with corruption, detachment from the people and bureaucratic tendencies among some of its members.
He pledged to address these issues by working “with all the comrades in the party to uphold the principle that the party should supervise its own conduct and run itself with strict discipline.”
He also praised the people of China, saying that their “desire for a better life is what we shall fight for” and that ”If we unite as one people, there is no difficulty we cannot overcome.”
“It is the people who have created history, and it is the people who are true heroes. The people are the source of our strength,” Xi said.
The new leader replaces Hu Jintao, under whose administration China saw a decade of extraordinary growth despite the global financial crisis.
Xi was first unofficially slated to take this position five years ago during the previous congress of the CPC. He’s been a member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo since 2007.
He is believed to be a pragmatic and skilled politician capable of finding consensus among different factions in the party. Like his predecessor, he is expected to continue cautiously opening China’s economy to market reforms while maintaining tight grasp on the political sphere.
“The new leadership showed that China valued stability and continuity above everything else. They will continue to grow economically, but politically there will not be any changes,” Francis Lun, managing director of Lyncean holdings, told RT.
His term in office may bring more change in the public image of Chinese leaders, especially abroad. For more than 20 years he has been married to acclaimed Chinese folk music singer Peng Liyuan, who has long been better-known to the general public than her husband. She is also a civilian member of the army, holding the rank of a major general and a position in the military musical troupe.
Some observers expect Peng to take a more active role than the wives of previous Chinese leaders, serving as counterpart to first ladies in Western countries.
Xi and Peng have a daughter, Xi Mingze, who is currently studying at Harvard.
The six other members of the newly-elected committee are Li Keqiang, Zhang Dejiang, Yu Zhengsheng, Liu Yunshan, Wang Qishan, and Zhang Gaoli.
The new Chinese leadership will gradually take over responsibility for the country over the next several months. Hu Jintao’s presidency will formally end at the annual parliamentary session in March 2013.
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