- Associated Press - Thursday, November 15, 2012

BEIJING — Long-anointed successor Xi Jinping assumed the leadership of China on Thursday, as the ruling Communist Party confronts slower economic growth, a public clamor to end corruption and demands for change that threaten its hold on power.

The country’s political elite named Mr. Xi to the top party post and unexpectedly put him in charge of the military, too, after a weeklong party congress and months of divisive bargaining.

The appointments give him broad authority, but not the luxury of time. After decades of juggernaut growth, China sits on the cusp of global pre-eminence as the second-largest economy and newest power, but it also has urgent domestic troubles that could frustrate its rise.

Problems that have long festered — from the sputtering economy to friction with the U.S. and territorial spats with Japan and other neighbors — have worsened in recent months as the leadership focused on the power transfer.

Impatience has grown among entrepreneurs, others in the new middle class and migrant workers — all wired by social media and conditioned by two decades of rising living standards to expect better government, if not democracy.

All along, police have continued to harass and jail a lengthening list of political foes, dissidents, civil rights lawyers and labor activists.

A 14-year-old Tibetan set himself on fire Thursday in western China, the latest of more than 70 self-immolations Tibetans have staged in the past 20 months in desperate protests against Chinese rule.

No Gorbachev

In his first address to the nation, Mr. Xi, a 59-year-old son of a revolutionary hero, acknowledged the lengthy agenda for what should be the first of two five-year terms in office.

He promised to deliver better social services while making sure China stands tall in the world and the party continues to rule.

“Our responsibility now is to rally and lead the entire party and the people of all ethnic groups in China in taking over the historic baton and in making continued efforts to achieve the great renewal of the Chinese nation,” a confident Mr. Xi said in nationally televised remarks from the Great Hall of the People.

He later said “we are not complacent, and we will never rest on our laurels” in confronting challenges — corruption chief among them.

By his side stood the six other newly appointed members of the Politburo Standing Committee: Li Keqiang, the presumptive premier and chief economic official; Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang; Shanghai party secretary Yu Zhengsheng; propaganda chief Liu Yunshan; Tianjin party secretary Zhang Gaoli; and Vice Premier Wang Qishan, once the leadership’s top troubleshooter who will head the party’s internal watchdog panel.

Mr. Xi gave no hint of new thinking to address the problems. The lack of specifics and the new leadership heavy with conservative technocrats deflated expectations for change in some quarters.

“We should be expecting more of the same, not some fundamental break from the past,” said Dali Yang, a professor at the University of Chicago specializing in China.

Story Continues →