Conclusion of 18th Party Congress Sets New Leadership for China

[authors: Lucas S. Chang, Ph.D. and Robert Bradford Farrar]

In a significant, once-in-a-decade transition in leadership, Xi Jinping assumes the role of General Secretary of the Communist Party of the People's Republic of China.

The 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of the People's Republic of China concluded on November 15. This particular Congress is noteworthy as it marks the once-in-a-decade transition in leadership of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, the highest party and government authority in the country. The members of the Standing Committee have a direct and significant effect on the domestic and foreign policy of the country and serve as the face of the country's leadership to the world.

As expected, current Vice President Xi Jinping was appointed General Secretary, and thus he will, in all likelihood, assume the presidency of the country during the National People's Congress in the spring of 2013. Vice President Xi also assumed control of the Central Military Commission, which governs the People's Liberation Army. This is a significant break from prior transitions, where the outgoing president would retain control of the military for an undetermined amount of time. Vice Premier Li Keqiang retains his standing with the Committee as Deputy Party Secretary, and he, in all likelihood, will assume the premiership during the Congress next spring.

Of the nine members of the current committee, only Xi and Li will remain; the rest will retire due to membership age restrictions. The Standing Committee itself was also reduced from nine to seven members, leaving positions for five new members: Chongqing party chief Zhang Dejiang, 66; Shanghai party secretary Yu Zhengsheng, 67; propaganda chief Liu Yunshan, 65; Vice Premier Wang Qishan, 64; and Tianjin party chief Zhang Gaoli, 66. Compared with the composition of the previous Standing Committee, whose members were from largely technocratic backgrounds, the incoming members have more experience and education in civics and law. In addition to the significant changes in Standing Committee leadership, there were also substantial changes to the composition of the 204-member/167-alternate-member Central Committee.

The start of the 18th National Congress was highlighted by a 90-minute opening speech given on November 8 by outgoing President Hu Jintao. Plans to double the country's gross domestic product and per capita income, reduce corruption, and take affirmative steps toward enacting political and economic reforms were discussed. The closing of the Congress was punctuated by an address given by the new General Secretary Xi, who reiterated the commitment to battle corruption, to continue China's economic growth, and to improve the lives of the people of China through focus on finance and the economy. Xi concluded his address by stating, "China needs to know more about the world, and the world also needs to know more about China."

It is hopeful that under the leadership of the new streamlined and ideologically congruous Standing Committee, China will continue its economic growth and continued progress toward development.