A new balance

CCP's legitimacy, and China's future, will depend on the wisdom of the fifth generation leadership

Following the conclusion of the 18th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party on Wednesday, Xi Jinping is expected to take charge of the nation at a critical moment. Together with Li Keqiang, Xi will form the core of the fifth generation of Chinese leaders since the founding of the People's Republic in 1949. This is the first succession the CCP has had to negotiate without the guiding hand of a supreme leader like Deng Xiaoping. The vicious jockeying for positions was reflected in the sacking of a politburo member, Bo Xilai, earlier this year. The announcements on the size and composition of the all-powerful standing committee of the 25-member politburo and the Central Military Commission, which controls the People's Liberation Army, will be scrutinised around the world for clues on the new internal balance of power within the CCP.

Besides selecting new leaders, the 18th Congress had the mandate to define the ideological direction for the CCP and the national goals for the coming years. Three decades of breakneck growth have made China the second largest economy in the world and a great power with the capacity to influence the political order in Asia and the world. On the flipside of this political miracle, economic inequality, corruption, environmental degradation, social tensions and the absence of representative institutions are testing the CCP's legitimacy. China is also under pressure to restructure its export-led economy into a consumption-oriented one amid the prolonged global economic recession. Beijing's new military clout and assertive nationalism have frightened China's neighbours and provoked the US to reclaim its primacy in Asia.

On the ideological front, the CCP has avoided the risk of formally discarding Mao Zedong's tragic leftist legacy. It has amended the party constitution to include the outgoing leader Hu Jintao's formulations on "scientific development", which are said to provide all the answers to the multiple challenges faced by China. If the CCP's call for building a "moderately prosperous society" in China by the next decade is bold, it has been timid in combining the talk of political reform with the old emphasis on "socialist democracy". On the international front, the CCP chose to stay with the predictable theme of peaceful coexistence. In the end, how China might deal with turbulence at home and abroad will depend on the political wisdom of the fifth generation leadership. As the world welcomes the new CCP leaders, it would also want to prepare for consequential political uncertainty in China.

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