Newly elected General Secretary of the Central Committee of
the Communist Party of China Xi Jinping speaks as he meets
the press at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
China's ruling Communist Party has unveiled an older,
conservative leadership line-up that appears unlikely to take
the drastic action needed to tackle pressing issues like social
unrest, environmental degradation and corruption.
New party chief Xi Jinping, premier-in-waiting Li Keqiang and
vice-premier in charge of economic affairs Wang Qishan, all
named as expected to the elite decision-making Politburo
Standing Committee, are considered cautious reformers. The
other four members have the reputation of being conservative.
The line-up belied any hopes that Xi would usher in a
leadership that would take bold steps to deal with slowing
growth in the world's second-biggest economy, or begin to
ease the Communist Party's iron grip on the most populous
"We're not going to see any political reform because too many
people in the system see it as a slippery slope to
extinction," said David Shambaugh, director of the China
Policy Program at George Washington University's Elliott
School of International Affairs.
"They see it entirely through the prism of the Soviet Union,
the Arab Spring and the Colour Revolutions in Central Asia,
so they're not going to go there."
Vice-Premier Wang, the most reform-minded in the line-up, has
been given the role of fighting widespread graft, identified
by both Xi and outgoing President Hu Jintao as the biggest
danger faced by the party and the state.
The run-up to the handover has been overshadowed by the
party's biggest scandal in decades, with former high-flyer Bo
Xilai sacked as party boss of southwestern Chongqing city
after his wife was accused of murdering a British
Bo, who has not been seen in public since early this year,
faces possible charges of corruption and abuse of power.
One source said an informal poll was held by over 200 voting
members in the party's central committee to choose the seven
members of the standing committee from among 10 candidates.
Two of them who had strong reform credentials - Guangdong
party boss Wang Yang and party organisation head Li Yuanchao
- failed to make it, along with the lone woman candidate Liu
The source, who has ties to the leadership, told Reuters on
condition of anonymity that Wang and Li Yuanchao, both allies
of Hu, did not make it to the standing committee because
party elders felt they were too liberal.
However, all three are in the 25-member Politburo, a group
that ranks below the standing committee. It was earlier
believed the voting was confined to the Politburo.
In the end, the seven-member leadership has an average age of
63.4 years compared with 62.1 five years ago. Xi led the
others out in a parade at the Great Hall of the People, with
all seven dressed in identical dark blue suits, all but one
set off by red or maroon ties.
The final line-up of the team and even the number was
speculated on for weeks. The committee was cut to seven
members from nine, which should ease consensus building and
Except for Xi and his deputy Li Keqiang, all the others in
the standing committee - the innermost circle of power in
China's authoritarian government - are 64 or above and will
have to retire within five years, when the next party
congress is held.
That means the party may just tread water on the most vital
reforms until then, although after that, Xi would probably
have more independence in choosing his team. The current
line-up has been finalised by Xi and Hu, and by former
president Jiang Zemin, who has wielded considerable influence
in the party after the tumult over the Bo Xilai scandal.
Wang and Li Yuanchao could make it to the standing committee
at the next party congress in 2017, perhaps along with
so-called "sixth generation" leaders like Inner Mongolia
party chief Hu Chunhua.
"The leadership is divided," said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a
Chinese politics expert at Hong Kong Baptist University,
adding however that the new leadership would find it easier
to make progress on economic reform rather than political
"It's easier for them to move to a new growth model. I think
they agree upon that and that won't be the hardest task. But
I see a lot of political paralysis."
Tony Saich, a China politics expert at Harvard's Kennedy
School of Government, said: "To me it smacks of a holding
pattern. I think the understanding is that Wang Yang has a
good shot in five years' time."
Besides party chief, Xi was also appointed head of the
party's top military body, which gives him two of the three
most important posts in the country. He will take over from
Hu as president in March.
Jiang, who was Hu's predecessor, did not give up the military
post until two years after giving up the party leadership.
Xi said in an address that he understood the people's desire
for a better life but warned of severe challenges going
"We are not complacent, and we will never rest on our
laurels," he said after introducing the standing committee at
the Great Hall of the People in a carefully choreographed
ceremony carried live on state television.
"Under the new conditions, our party faces many severe
challenges, and there are also many pressing problems within
the party that need to be resolved, particularly corruption,
being divorced from the people, going through formalities and
bureaucracy caused by some party officials."
North Korean-trained economist Zhang Dejiang is expected to
head the largely rubber-stamp parliament, while Shanghai
party boss Yu Zhengsheng is likely to head parliament's
advisory body, according to the order in which their names
Tianjin party chief Zhang Gaoli and Liu Yunshan, a
conservative who has kept domestic media on a tight leash,
make up the rest of the group. Zhang should become executive
"Words from the new leadership will be reform-minded, but
deeds would be very cautious at least in economic and
financial restructuring," said Alberto Forchielli, managing
partner at Mandarin Capital Partners in Shanghai.
Advocates of reform are pressing Xi to cut back the
privileges of state-owned firms, make it easier for rural
migrants to settle in cities, fix a fiscal system that
encourages local governments to live off land expropriations
and, above all, tether the powers of a state that they say
risks suffocating growth and fanning discontent.
With growing public anger and unrest over everything from
corruption to environmental degradation, there may also be
cautious efforts to answer calls for more political reform,
though nobody seriously expects a move towards full
The party could introduce experimental measures to broaden
inner-party democracy - in other words, encouraging greater
debate within the party - but stability remains a top concern
and one-party rule will be safeguarded.
In contrast to the mounting excitement until the announcement
of the standing committee at the Great Hall of the People,
the unveiling barely caused a ripple in China's vast
"We're not really that interested," said Chen Yongjiang, a
fruit and vegetable farmer in Chenjiapu, a snow-covered
village in Hebei province.
"For those of us in the farmlands and the mountains, as long
as they make life better for us, we're happy."