Foreign Policy

Opportunity Lost? Inside China's Leadership Transition

For a country widely seen as the world's other superpower, we know shockingly little about the worldviews, values, and socioeconomic policies of the seven men just named the new leaders of China. Unlike American politicians, Chinese leaders carry out their campaigns largely behind closed doors, and they are not chosen by the people.

But this year's once-a-decade power transfer was particularly opaque, clouded by the recent eruption of unprecedented political scandals. One was the dramatic March downfall of Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai, an ambitious and charismatic political heavyweight, toppled amid a murder case involving his wife. Another was the sudden removal of Ling Jihua, President Hu Jintao's chief of staff, from the center of power on the eve of the 18th Party Congress. These astonishing events have heightened the risk of social instability in China and fueled uncertainty over the country's political trajectory. And the composition of the new Chinese leadership may even heighten that risk.

As China's new leaders are unveiled, we can begin to answer some important questions: Are there clear winners and losers? Can the identities of newly promoted leaders help us understand where China is headed?

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