The West has expressed doubts about the new leadership lineup’s desire for further reform, but there is evidence it is more than up to the task.
The country's recent leadership transition was widely depicted as a triumph for conservative hardliners and a setback for the cause of reform – a characterization that has deepened the gloominess that pervades Western perceptions of China. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang – the top two officials in the new governing council, the Standing Committee of the Politburo – are both well-educated, well-traveled and sophisticated thinkers who bring a wealth of experience to the many challenges that China faces. As so-called fifth generation leaders, they continue the steady progress in competence that has marked each of the leadership transitions since the emergence of Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s.
While it is entirely premature to judge the style and direction that the new leaders will take, three early hints are worth noting. First, Xi's assumption of power is more complete than was the case in earlier transitions. By immediately taking the reins of both the Communist Party and the Central Military Commission, he has greater opportunity to put his personal stamp on policy than his predecessors had at the start of their administrations.
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