Xi Jinping became China’s new leader today, assuming the top posts in the Communist Party and the powerful military in a political transition unbowed by scandals, a slower economy and public demands for reforms.
Mr Xi was introduced as the new party general secretary at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People a day after the close of a weeklong party congress that underlined the communists’ determination to remain firmly in power.
He and the six other men who will form China’s new collective leadership, all dressed in dark suits, walked in line onto the red-carpeted stage.
Mr Xi’s appointment as chairman of the military commission, announced by the state Xinhua News Agency, marked a break from the recent tradition of retiring leaders holding onto the post for a transitional period to extend their influence.
It meant outgoing leader Hu Jintao would relinquish all positions of power, giving Mr Xi broader leeway to consolidate his authority.
The once-a-decade leadership change was carefully choreographed.
It became clear Mr Xi would lead China five years ago, when he was appointed to the Standing Committee – the nation’s apex of power – as the highest-ranked member who would not be of retirement age this year.
Mr Xi’s colleagues in the new Standing Committee are Li Keqiang, the presumptive premier and chief economic official; Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang; Shanghai party secretary Yu Zhengsheng; propaganda chief Liu Yunshan; Vice Premier Wang Qishan; and Tianjin party secretary Zhang Gaoli.
In a speech broadcast live on Chinese state TV and worldwide, Mr Xi said: “We shall do everything we can to live up to your trust and fulfil our mission.
“There are also many pressing problems within the party that need to be resolved, particularly corruption,” Mr Xi said.
“We must make every effort to solve these problems. The whole party must stay on full alert.”
The other six leaders were expressionless with their arms at their sides during Mr Xi’s 20-minute speech, then smiled to the audience when they walked off stage.
The son of a party elder, and vice president for the past five years, Mr Xi will lead the world’s second largest economy and newest diplomatic and military power amid increasingly vocal calls for economic and political reform - including from within the 82-million-member party itself.
At ease in front of people and with colleagues, Mr Xi takes over the party leadership from the stiff, technocratic Mr Hu, and is expected to assume the largely ceremonial presidency in March.
The ascent of Mr Xi and Mr Li, the premier-in-waiting, represents a generational change. Though they spent their youths labouring on farms, their university years and early careers took place when China was casting off the planned economy and turning to the free market and to the West. They are thought to be more open to new ideas than their predecessors, but nonetheless bound by China’s consensus-oriented politics.
Today marked only the second tidy transition since communist rule was established in 1949, despite a turbulent political year that saw the downfall in a murder and corruption scandal of rising populist Bo Xilai, who had been seen as a key contender for the new leadership slate.
The outgoing Mr Hu oversaw a decade of turgid economic growth and urban development and tried to make concern for ordinary people the hallmark of his tenure, but he also will be remembered for harshly stifling dissent and rolling back civil liberties.
At the same time, increased social freedoms have created a generation of Chinese who are more aware of their rights and more vocal about demanding them.