Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping was not elected to a post on the Central Military Commission. There was no mention of Xi's promotion in an official bulletin issued at the end of the four-day meeting of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party on Friday. Observers had fully expected Xi to be elected to a ranking post in the powerful commission, sealing his status as successor to President Hu Jintao.
But that does not mean that Xi has hit an obstacle. As vice president and top-ranking member of the Secretariat of the Communist Party, principal of the Central Party School, and the sixth-highest ranked member of the Politburo Standing Committee, Xi is in charge of party affairs and educating its leaders. He was also entrusted with explaining the draft minutes of the latest Central Committee meeting to 344 committee members. Judging from his responsibilities, it appears to be just a matter of time before Xi succeeds Hu. His appointment to the rank of vice president of the Central Military Commission simply requires his election at the next Central Committee meeting next fall or in 2011.
If all goes according to plan, Xi will be elected as China's new leader, in charge of the party, the government and the military during the 18th Party Congress in 2012. The Chinese media, which is subject to party and government restrictions, featured Xi in reports on Saturday praising students at a science exhibition and receiving applause, which was a way of demonstrating that his status as Hu's heir had become even stronger. Hu was born in 1942 and was seven years old when communist China was born. Xi was born in 1953 and is expected to become the first Chinese leader to have been born after the creation of the People's Republic in 1949.
The contrast to North Korea is stark. While China went through the leaderships of Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao and now looks to Xi, North Korea has only been led by Kim Il-sung and his son Kim Jong-il. At Kim Jong-il's side is the 78-year-old O Kuk-ryol, the vice chairman of North Korea's powerful Defense Commission. The president of the Supreme People's Assembly is the 84-year-old Kim Yong-nam. There is no generational shift in power.
In the Chinese Communist Party, 66-year-old Xi Chaihou and 67-year-old Guo Boxiong are the serving military officers in the Central Military Commission. Now if the military commissions of China and North Korea hold working-level talks, officials in their mid 60s must sit face to face with officials in their late 70s.
The situation is much the same for diplomats. Kim Yong-nam rose to the no. 2 post in North Korea as a diplomat, is 84, while Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo is 68. North Korean Foreign Minister Park Eui-chun is 76, and China's vice foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, is 59. At 67, Kim Jong-il himself is among the younger officials in the North Korean regime. Overall, China's leadership consists of people in their 50s and 60s, and North Korea's of people in their 70s and 80s.
The problems will start in 2012, when Xi takes over to lead a government of younger officials. If the North Korean regime survives under the existing leadership until 2012, waiting for them to die of natural causes, it will have a hard time communicating with China. One Chinese expert visiting recently from Beijing was asked whether he felt North Korea was still an ally. After along pause, the expert said, "The problem is that North Korea does not obey international rules. But we should still call it an ally."
By Park Sung-joon from the Chosun Ilbo's News Desk