Xi Jinping, China’s new leader, has all the right credentials for the top job. His father was one of Mao Zedong’s comrades-in-arms during the Long March, but, like many of his peers, was purged during the Cultural Revolution. Mr Xi’s wife, Peng Liyuan, is a celebrity singer and they have a daughter studying at Harvard under a pseudonym. He is thus a perfect representative of the new class, known as the ‘princelings’ — children of star communist leaders — which now rules China. His choice as Hu Jintao’s successor as general secretary of the Communist Party of China and the country’s president next March was pre-ordained from the time he was made vice-president. The elections of Mr Xi, the seven members of the CPC’s politburo standing committee or of those on the new central committee are not exactly what the free world knows as democratic choices. For all that has changed in China, the CPC and its rule remain as opaque as ever. Mr Hu and Mr Xi want many things to change in the party. Both have warned against corruption, bureaucratic attitudes in the party and the government and against the growing gap between the party and the people. The irony is that both still want the party to retain its monopoly of power. By doing so, they continue to deny a simple truth — that the party is the source of all the problems that seem to worry them.
Yet, the change of guard in China can be of enormous significance as much to its people as to the world. Mr Hu’s 10-year rule saw the country become the world’s second-largest economy after the United States of America. It also succeeded in lifting millions of Chinese out of poverty. But Mr Hu’s reign also saw the income gap in China becoming the worst in the world. For all his emphasis on ‘social harmony’, Mr Hu’s regime witnessed unprecedented levels of social unrest. It also leaves behind a legacy of growing suspicions about China in its neighbourhood and beyond. Mr Xi will need to reverse many of Mr Hu’s policies that led to friction between China and its neighbours in the East China Sea and the South China Sea. China’s ties with India, too, have seen uneven progress in recent years. While trade volumes have increased, fresh tensions marked old disputes on border, Tibet and other strategic issues. His past record suggests that Mr Xi will settle more for continuity than for real change.