In light of the power transition that will take place later this year, Xi Jinping, the new leader of China, has garnered much media and public attention these past few months. However, it is the common consensus that Xi is a man of mystery. He has not expressed any distinct ideas on policy and has refrained from comment on any major occasions. His elusiveness has left the world guessing and debating about what exactly he has in mind for China in the next decade.
The dominant voices in Chinese politics at the moment seem to agree that Xi Jinping will need to instigate some sort of change if he wishes to solidify his power. Hu Jintao, in his ten years of leadership, has focused on one thing: stability. In stressing stability, Hu’s policies were stagnant and inflexible. This stagnation has ostensibly fostered the power of local communities and common societal forces, allowing people to become increasingly restless. In stepping up as the new leader of China, Xi is now in a difficult position. He cannot simply maintain the status quo without agitating the Chinese people, who are calling for reforms. Some political analysts have compared China to a ticking time bomb; Hu Jintao has held on to this bomb for 10 years, and is now passing it on to Xi Jinping, who simply cannot hold on to this regime (safely) for another ten years without making some changes. The dominant speculation among Chinese political and media analysts is that Xi Jinping will tackle the problem of living standards and unequal distribution of wealth, which is the easiest and most direct way to appease and connect with the population.
On the other hand, there is a debate on the topic of political reform. Personal biases aside, there are many people who believe that Xi Jinping is in an ideal strategic position to instigate political reform. His strong and diverse political background has placed him in the favor of multiple party factions. The timing of the power transition is also opportune for political reform as it is now a rising demand from the Chinese populace. Others argue that the possibility of political reform remains slim. They believe it is possible that the Communist Party’s regime may collapse on itself under forces of change within the government structure. Political reform may be better for China and its people, but it may be unfavorable for the Communist Party. Xi will not have the audacity to risk the power of his party.
Either way, it seems we will not know what Xi Jinping’s policies will be until after the power transition. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see how this new leader will impact both China’s domestic and international politics.