Times and Faces Change in China

Focus: GLOBAL

A leadership shift puts Xi Jinping at the head of the Communist Party as China reckons with its economic destiny, writes Clifford Coonan of The National.

Xi Jinping was last week given a powerful mandate to rule the world's most populous country for the next decade.

Using that power to keep China's economy on track will be one of his most pressing concerns. And, not surprisingly, there are plans in place.

"The policy directions to address the key economic and social challenges have already been laid out in the 12th five-year plan and reaffirmed in president Hu Jintao's report at the party congress," says Wang Tao, an analyst at UBS.

Xi is the new general secretary of the Communist Party of China and the chairman of the party's military commission.

He takes over the helm of an economic colossus. China's GDP is $7.3 trillion, five times more than ten years ago, putting it second behind the United States. In 2002, it trailed the US, Japan, Germany, Britain, and France in sixth place.

Growth is slowing this year, prompting market players, analysts, overseas companies and ordinary people alike to wonder what Xi plans to do to maintain the country's monumental development.

Improving economic data in the run-up to the leadership transition took some of the urgency out of the debate about the need for reform, which could prove a double-edged sword for China's long-term prospects. Fourth-quarter GDP growth looks set to be stronger than the third quarter, as net exports seem to be recovering.

But longer term, the consensus is that restructuring the economy is necessary.