[Viewpoint] Xi won’t change single-party system

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[Viewpoint] Xi won’t change single-party system

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping was recently promoted to vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Communist Party’s Central Committee, and is on track to succeed Hu Jintao, who will step down from his general secretary position in 2012 and the presidency the following year.

The top executive lineup of Xi and Vice Premier Li Keqiang, who is expected to succeed Premier Wen Jiabao, was revealed at the National Convention in 2007 and officially confirmed in a recent party leadership session. The chairman of the party’s Central Military Commission is also the party secretary, so whoever ascends to vice chairman of the commission is considered the front-runner to lead the military and economic powerhouse.

Xi still has several tests to go through before he takes over for Hu, and faces major challenges after he ascends. He must weather hitherto-suppressed factional conflicts within the party and find his own footing, while wisely dealing with interference and influence from the party’s elder big guns, including Hu. How quickly and solidly he cements his power base depends on his statesmanship.

The appointment of the 57-year-old bureaucrat, who earned his reputation while administering prosperous eastern provinces, has many overseas officials and pundits looking for clues about China’s direction under his helm. A leadership change in a single-party autocratic socialist political system can be crucial in defining the future, dramatically more than a power transfer in a democratic society.

But today’s China is not the same as it used to be under the rule of Mao Zedong or Deng Xiaoping. Although the political system remains secretive and rigid, the country’s state policy affairs are directed by a governing organization and system. President Hu Jintao and his successor Xi Jinping represent the state and party, but their titles do not insure omnipotent power over the party or the people.

The country’s state affairs are mapped out and decided by a group of senior leaders after thorough discussion and coordination. The country’s policy podium may be adjusted by extraordinary circumstances at home and abroad, but the basic line and direction will likely remain more or less unaffected by the leadership shift.

Without a bombshell upset, China will likely pursue rhetorical focus on tending to welfare issues and sustaining balanced policies toward stability and growth. It may be under greater pressure for political reform and the pursuit of a more democratic system, but won’t likely veer from its single-party system. It will likely maintain its single-party system, solidify legal foundations and systematize power structures to uphold the current collective-party governing system.

As a neighboring country, our interest is centered on potential changes in China’s external policies. China wants a greater role and recognition in the international community, equivalent to its newfound economic might. Western countries are demanding more responsible commitments from China according to international rules and norms to win such accreditation.

China, however, is offended by such demands, claiming they interfere in domestic affairs and create unfair censure. China’s self-confidence is fed by nationalistic pride of the younger generation, who grew up watching China’s ascendency in global status. Backed by such domestic support, the new Chinese leadership will likely be more assertive in foreign affairs.

When China’s fifth-generation leadership takes over in 2012, South Korea, too, will embrace new leadership. Korea’s new leader must be a formidable counterpart to China’s, considering the importance of Korean-Chinese relations concerning security and economics. The advance notice of China’s new leadership gives our presidential hopefuls time to prepare.

*The writer is a professor of political science and diplomacy at Sogang University.

By Chun Sung-heung
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