A fair shake

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A fair shake

The Chinese Communist Party named the country’s vice president, Xi Jinping, to a key military post, paving the way for Xi to become the next leader of this economic and military powerhouse.

Barring a major upset, Xi is expected to succeed President Hu Jintao in 2012. At the same time, Vice Premier Li Keqiang is expected to succeed Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, who will also retire in two years. A new leadership structure is clearly emerging. Xi and Keqiang are poised to take the reins at a time when the world’s most populated country increasingly garners a bigger share of the global spotlight because of its rapid growth. The to-do list includes guiding the super-heated economy and responding to global demands that China take a more responsible role on the international stage. The challenges these leaders face could be more demanding than the hurdles the current administration has dealt with.

China has progressed at a dizzying pace over the last three decades and has outperformed Japan this year in second-quarter gross domestic product. But the benefits of its growth have been disproportionate, widening the wealth gap between urban and rural regions, different classes and ethnic groups. The income gap between the richest 10 percent and poorest 10 percent of the population ballooned 23-fold between 1988 and 2007, while the income gap between urban and rural regions jumped four-fold last year. Resentment among poorer segments of the population could bubble to the surface at any time and dampen the country’s growth.

The party’s leadership has suggested pursuing policies that will appropriate wealth across a broader spectrum of the population. Political reform and expanding freedom of speech should also be on the agenda for the next leadership.

Voices demanding that China take on a more responsible global role are growing. Beijing can no longer ignore this chorus. It must now take up the political and economic duties of a superpower by standing at the forefront in global affairs to lead the way in foreign exchange rates, trade, the environment and energy.

When it comes to the Korean Peninsula, we expect the next leadership team in China to craft its policies more objectively, particularly when it comes to North Korean affairs. We have been disappointed by the country’s one-sided advocacy for Pyongyang, which will not help China or North Korea in the end. We hope the next leadership will persuade North Korea to surrender its nuclear ambitions and join the global community.

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