China taps a new leader but who is this guy?

10/21/2010 11:02 am EST

Focus: STOCKS

Jim Jubak

Founder and Editor, JubakPicks.com

It sure is a lot more orderly than the current U.S. elections. Even if the meaning of the result remains more than a bit vague.

On October 18 the central committee of China’s Communist Party appointed Xi Jinping vice chairman of the Communist Party’s military commission

The move was widely expected and sets up the 57-year old Xi, now vice president, to take over when China’s President Hu Jintao leaves office in 2012. Hu received that same title in 1999 when he was vice president. (He is now chairman of the military commission.) A leadership position on the military commission was the last important box that Xi needed to check to be considered the front-runner going into the 2012 party congress.

Xi was previously party chief in Zhejiang province and in Shanghai. In Shanghai he replaced Chen Liangyu, who was imprisoned on corruption charges.

His father Xi Zhongxun was governor of Guangdong province from 1979 to 1981 and in charge of China’s first special economic zone, which turned the fishing village of Shenzhen into an economic powerhouse with a per capita income of more than $10,000 a year.

All of which makes Xi what is called a “princeling” in China because he is the son of a former prominent official. But that status also makes Xi hard to read—and that has led to opposition by some party leaders to his rise. His father, then deputy premier, was accused of disloyalty to Mao in 1962, returning to power only with the rise of economic reformers under Deng. In 1989 he stepped out of line again to publicly condemn the killings in Tiananmen Square in 1989. The father’s most famous quote is probably this one to Deng: "We need to reform China and implement this economic zone even if it means that we have to pave a bloody road ahead and I am to be responsible for it.”

Nothing in this guarantees that the son will be an economic or political reformer. In fact Xi’s elevation to the military commission does, I think, assure that the question of What next for China? will stay very hard to answer until Hu and premier Wen Jiabao actually turn over control to Xi or someone else in 2012

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