16.11.2012 | All change and no change: China’s leadership transition

​In the run-up to China’s 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), it was business as usual with taxi drivers in Beijing ordered to remove the winding handles from the rear windows in their vehicles to stop passengers handing out leaflets with “adverse information”.

Finally, on 15 November, Xi Jinping was elected General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee, completing the country’s second peaceful power transition in six decades of Communist rule. This came as no surprise to China watchers. Xi’s appointment to the top job was certain as early as spring 2011 and with his rise to power over the last few years marked by an aversion to discord, the Congress has been seen largely as a “grand celebration of the status quo”. 

Born in Beijing in 1953, Xi is known as a princeling, the son of one of China’s first-generation Communist leaders and revolutionary elders. He is a consensus figure and managed to keep a foot in both key factions in the jostling that preceded the leadership change. Xi has a track record of encouraging market-led growth and has the support of Jiang Zemin’s Shanghai faction, which retains considerable influence on China’s political stage. Indeed, four of the seven new members of the Standing Committee are seen as Jiang’s allies. However, Xi also has support from Hu Jintao’s traditional powerbase, the Communist Party Youth League, who prefer a state-dominated economic model. With China on track for its first year of sub-8% growth in more than a decade, the next 10 years will be testing for Xi and critical for China.