Continued from page 1

Mr. Xi rose through the party ranks in China’s eastern Fujian province, where he became governor in 2000. Seven years later, he assumed the role of Communist Party secretary in Shanghai after his predecessor was ousted in a corruption scandal.

Unknown factor

Barely six months into his new job, Mr. Xi was elevated to the Politburo Standing Committee – China’s top political body – in a sign that he was expected to succeed Mr. Hu. In October 2010, he was appointed vice chairman of the central military commission, removing any doubts about his imminent rise to the very top.

“We know a lot about Xi Jinping, but little is known about which direction he is going to take,” said Mr. Yang. “He has no political achievement whatsoever. … He has no good record, but he also has no bad record.”

Few expect Mr. Xi to be a different leader in substance from his predecessors.

“He is party chief of the political system. He is bound by very, very strong interests,” said Mr. Yang.

One of the reasons Mr. Xi will find it hard to make his own mark is that the Communist Party’s seven-member Politburo Standing Committee takes major policy decisions by consensus.

“There is really very little evidence that Xi himself is going to be a major innovator, that he is going to try and shake things up or change things. He has benefited from the system, and there is not much evidence that he would want to rock the boat,” said Dean Cheng of the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center.

Mr. Xi is expected to focus early in his tenure on tackling China’s rampant corruption and turning around a slowing economy.

“Corruption in China is out of control,” said Mr. Wang of the U.S.-China Policy Foundation. “He should take care of the home front first,” before focusing on foreign policy, he added.

Cheng Li of the Brookings Institution, said the new Chinese leadership will “continue to push for much bolder economic reform.”

“Now there is good opportunity for them to prove they are capable economic administrators,” Mr. Li said at Brookings forum recently.

‘Prickly, assertive’

The U.S.-China relationship will continue to be dominated by Chinese concerns over the U.S.’s Asia pivot. Despite assurances from the Obama administration, the new policy initiative is widely viewed in China as an attempt to check its rise globally. On a visit to Washington in February, Mr. Xi met with President Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta.

“The Chinese are going to be more prickly, more assertive, when it comes to territory and other issues of nationalism,” said Mr. Cheng of the Heritage Foundation.

Story Continues →