Leader Development & Education for Sustained Peace Program: Cross-Cultural, Geopolitical & Regional Education

Topic Debate: China’s New Leadership

Background: On 15 November, Xi Jinping was appointed General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC). Mr. Xi will officially replace President Hu Jintao in March 2013 during the annual parliamentary session, becoming the next president of the People’s Republic of China. The move marks the fifth generation of Chinese leaders since 1949.

Xi Jinping’s personal background makes him a unique leader of the CPC. Unlike many past CPC officials, Mr. Xi has spent considerable time in the U.S., and in fact his daughter is an undergraduate student at Harvard University. Commentators note his charisma and common touch including that he plays soccer, enjoys Hollywood films and is married to Chinese pop star. These and other factors have given him a reputation as a reformer where unlike previous CPC supporters of investment driven growth, Mr. Xi favours market-oriented policies.

In the following months, Mr. Xi and fellow officials will have to address many of the country’s pressing challenges, including the CPC’s corruption, social inequality, relations with Tibet, regional disputes, the country’s growing economy, and changing demographics.

Debate: The changes implemented by China’s new leadership remain unclear. Will China embark on a path of change or continuity? The following articles discuss some possibilities.

  • Carolynne Wheeler, journalist and contributor to The Globe and Mail, points out that though there are high expectations for new and dramatic reforms, the seven-member leadership team that emerged from Great Hall of the People is still a largely conservative force. Wheeler explains that the economic reforms will inevitably be cautious and careful. Nonetheless, “though China’s economic path is not expected to take any dramatic turns – a strong middle class with more spending power, for instance – will impact he country’s trade partners.”
  • Kenneth Liberthal, director of the John L. Thornton China Center and a senior fellow in Foreign Policy and Global Economy and Development at the Brookings Institution, illustrates that “the recognition of the need for sectoral reform of the Chinese economy — and related political reforms to make that happen — is so widespread that Xi undoubtedly has this on his agenda.” Liberthal grants that “even if Xi proves to be an ardent reformist (which is by no means clear), he may prove unable to move the system sufficiently in the directions he knows it must go.”
  • Wenfang Tang, a professor of Political Science and International Studies and Stanley Hua Hsia Chair of Chinese Culture and Institutions at the University of Iowa, predicts that as China flexes its muscles at home and abroad, “three things will likely happen in the next decade regardless of who is leading the country: China will become the largest economy in the world, China will be pushed to the front stage in international politics, and China will slip into a populist authoritarian nation.”
  • Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, CNN’s China Adviser and Northeast Asia project director for the International Crisis Group, argues why China will not turn the other cheek over foreign policy: “Beijing is keen to prevent the world from concluding that China has discarded the notion of a peaceful rise. The result has been reactive assertiveness; a foreign policy tactic perfected during China’s ongoing maritime disputes. This approach allows Beijing to use perceived provocations as a chance to change the status-quo in its favor — all the while insisting the other party started the trouble.”
  • Regarding relations with the U.S., Foreign Policy Initiative, a DC-based think tank started by neo-conservative analysts, discusses the future prospects of cooperation and competition between the U.S. and China on issues such as China’s trade practices, human rights, military growth, the environment, and regional disputes.


 Do you think China’s new leadership can or will implement dramatic reforms?

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