Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping has been appointed vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, which oversees the two-million-strong People's Liberation Army, virtually confirming his position as the country's next leader. The Chinese Communist Party appointed Xi to the new position in a planning meeting, the state news agency Xinhua reported on Monday.
The four-day session of the party's Central Committee, which opened on Friday, also saw the announcement of a five-year economic development plan that puts more focus on the distribution of wealth rather than on economic expansion. The Chinese government is now expected to bolster social benefits, aid for senior citizens, state medical programs and other subsidies.
The position of vice chairman at the Central Military Commission is a stepping stone on the way to becoming president. Chinese President Hu Jintao was also appointed to the position in 1999, where he served for the next three years before being elected president. Xi will serve in the post until the next Communist Party leadership meeting in 2012, when he is expected to be designated as the next leader.
Xi (57) is a "princeling," the son of party veteran Xi Zhongxun, who was an ally of Deng Xiaoping and helped to oversee the economic opening process in southern China. Xi Jinping graduated from the prestigious Tsinghua University and has been recognized for self-restraint and professional ability.
Xi is well informed about Korean affairs and has many contacts in both Koreas. He visited South Korea in December last year and met President Lee Myung-bak, then-National Assembly speaker Kim Hyong-o, and then-prime minister Chung Un-chan, as well as leading business figures. In 2005 when he was a party secretary in Zhejiang Province, he made a visit accompanied by 58 officials including the Chinese ambassador to Seoul, the evidence of his power even then. After being elected vice president in March 2008, Xi visited Pyongyang and developed ties with the North Korean regime.
International media reports say his apparent stoicism makes it difficult to gauge his thoughts. But that trait is a typical characteristic of Chinese leaders, partly intended to demonstrate their humility. When he visited Mexico in February last year, Xi responded to foreign media criticism of China's human rights record. "China has done a great deed simply by managing to feed its 1.3 billion people. We have never exported our revolution or hunger. Foreigners who are full and have nothing to do are always complaining," he said.
Political circles in Beijing say Xi is the first leader to rise to the position by election by high-level party officials rather than being hand-picked by Hu. Xi was chairman of the preparatory committee for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and oversaw measures to deal with the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests last year. He sat next to Hu during North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s visit to China in May.