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China changes leadership in once-in-a-decade power transfer

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
November 8th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Just as the United States confirmed their leadership for the next four years, China has begun its once-a-decade leadership change. President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and other long-standing leaders will give up their main party posts, making way for new President Xi Jinping and new premier Li Keqiang.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - In front of an audience of 2,000 party officials from across the country, outgoing President Hu Jintao, 70, reaffirmed the party's right to govern, with a ringing endorsement of the achievements during his 10 years in office.

Under his leadership, China's economy quadrupled in size, leapfrogging to No. 2 from No. 5 in global economic ranking, amassing the strategic global clout that the country wields today.

The week-long event is expected to culminate in the election of 59-year-old Xi Jinping as China's next top party leader. When China's parliament convenes early next year, Xi is expected to be named China's president. He will then acquire the full authority with which he will co-manage with Obama the delicate course of Chinese-American relation.

The startling difference between the Chinese and American models of governance, which were playing out at the same time, was not lost on the world media.

NBC News posed the issue of whether China will eventually adopt democratic reform and popular elections.

"The leading position of the Chinese Communist Party is a historic choice, a people's choice," Cai Mingzhao, the congress spokesman said, dismissing any prospect of multiparty politics.

Hu's departure reinforced China's path of gradual reform, which prizes harmony and stability in times of rapid change. Still, China observers concede that a smooth party congress will mark only the second time a peaceful transfer of power in Communist China's otherwise tumultuous history.

Prior to the 2002 change of leadership from then-president Jiang Zemin to Hu Jintao, all succession plans involving the heirs of Chairman Mao and even Deng Xiaoping ended up in bloody and tragic power struggles.

The recent transition also vindicates China's new rule that sets an age limit on top leaders, a practice not yet adopted by other modern nations, according to scholars.

In spite of China's enormous gains in the past 10 years, the jury is out on the legacy of Hu and his close political partner, Premier Wen Jiabao.

"They have laid the foundations of a meaningful social safety net, in terms of health insurance, retirement pensions, unemployment benefits, and more recently subsidized housing while keeping a rather high economic growth rate," Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a professor of government and prominent China scholar at the Hong Kong Baptist University says.

"But 'lay the foundations' is important because a lot remains to be done in terms of reimbursements and coverage," Cabestan told NBC News.

"Hu has introduced a series of very important concepts such as scientific concept of development, harmonious society, and pro-people approach but has yet to implement them," Bo Zhiyue, expert on China's elite politics at the National University of Singapore says.

 "Some critics may doubt the sincerity of Wen's human face, but it was effective among a vast number of farmers and migrant workers in the country, especially for groups like AIDS orphans, coal-miners and families of earthquake victims," Li Cheng, a top China scholar of the Brookings Institution said in an earlier email interview.

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