Xi Jinping, the 59-year-old “princeling” son of a former Politburo member and Vice Premier, was on Thursday unveiled as the new General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC).
Mr Xi and six other top leaders who will constitute the Party’s highest body – the Politburo Standing Committee – were presented as the faces of the party’s new generation of leaders, marking an end to a once in ten year transition process.
The CPC has reduced the size of its elite inner circle from nine to seven, underscoring long-discussed moves, analysts said, to make the top body more efficient and less driven by competing factional interests.
The composition of the new PBSC was along expected lines, filled by officials close to former leader Jiang Zemin and outgoing General Secretary Hu Jintao, reflecting the continuing influence the two leaders are expected to wield from behind the scenes even as Mr. Xi looks to make his mark. Mr. Hu will continue serving as President until March.
Mr. Xi was flanked by second-ranked Li Keqiang (57), who will take over as Premier in March when Wen Jiabao will step down. The other members of the party’s inner circle, in order of rank, are: Zhang Dejiang (66), the Chongqing Party Secretary; Yu Zhengsheng (67), the Shanghai Party Secretary; Liu Yunshan (65), a senior propaganda official; Wang Qishan (64), a Vice Premier in charge of economic affairs; and Zhang Gaoli (66) the Party Secretary in Tianjin.
The seven leaders emerged from the first meeting of the newly selected 18th Central Committee – chosen at Wednesday’s National Congress. The plenary meeting, during which the selection of the seven leaders was ratified by the 376 members of the Central Committee – a process seen as a formality – ran one hour late.
In a brief address, Mr. Xi thanked the party for the trust placed in the new leadership and spoke of “severe challenges” the new generation of leaders will face.
“The Party members’ trust and the whole nation’s expectations are a source of tremendous encouragement, and place enormous responsibility on our shoulders,” Mr. Xi said.
“Our people yearn for better education, stable jobs, more satisfactory incomes, greater social security, healthcare and better living conditions… The people’s desire for a better life is what we shall fight for.”
“It is the people who have created history,” he said. “They are the real heroes”.
The composition of the new PBSC followed months of bargaining between the party’s various interest groups, with both Mr. Hu and Mr. Jiang pushing for their allies to secure top posts.
Four of the top seven leaders of the new PBSC are known here as “princelings” – the family of former leaders who are seen as having particularly close ties to Mr. Jiang – indicating the continuing influence wielded by the party’s select group of “revolutionary families”.
Mr. Xi’s father, Xi Zhongxun, was a former Vice Premier who pushed for economic reforms. Mr. Zhang Dejiang’s father was a PLA General. Mr. Yu, the Shanghai Party Chief, comes from family with long political influence: his grandfather was a defence minister under the Kuomintang while his father, Huang Jing, was a senior official. Mr. Wang, who will head the party’s internal disciplinary body, is the son-in-law of Yao Yilin, a former Premier.
Second-ranked Mr. Li and Mr. Liu, the propaganda official, come from less connected backgrounds, and forged ties with outgoing Party Secretary Hu Jintao in the Communist Youth League. The PBSC will serve a five-year term; only Mr. Xi and Mr. Li will continue on for a second term beginning in 2017.
Mr. Xi said the CPC faced “severe challenges”, highlighting “problems among party members of corruption, taking bribes, being out of touch with the people, and an undue emphasis on bureaucratism”.
The party, he said, had “every reason to be proud” of its accomplishments in leading a revival of the Chinese nation after decades of turbulence.
“Proud,” he added, “but not complacent”.