So it's all over bar the minor details. A great nation has decided on its leader for the coming turbulent years ahead.
Yes, Chinese president Hu Jintao has opened the Communist Party Congress, where Xi Jinping will almost certainly be confirmed as the new head of the Party. Happily for him, there being only one party, he will in due course become the president. None of that messy business with elections and such. And nothing spells legitimacy and the right to govern like the killing of 50-odd million of your fellow citizens.
The indications are that Xi Jinping will be a hard-liner:
In the last four months, China has forged an aggressive, more nationalistic posture in Asia that may set the tone for Mr. Xi’s expected decade-long tenure, analysts and diplomats say, pushing against American allies, particularly Japan, for what China considers its territorial imperatives.The son of a revolutionary general, Mr. Xi, 59, boasts far closer ties to China’s fast-growing military than the departing leader, Hu Jintao, had when he took office. As Mr. Xi rose through the ranks of the Communist Party, he made the most of parallel posts in the People’s Liberation Army, deeply familiarizing himself with the inner workings of the armed forces.
Even if Mr. Xi does not immediately become head of the crucial Central Military Commission as well as party leader, he will almost certainly do so within two years, giving him at least eight years as the direct overseer of the military.
This combination of political power as head of the Communist Party and good relations with a more robust military could make Mr. Xi a formidable leader for Washington to contend with, analysts and diplomats in China and the United States say....
Mr. Xi will be in charge of a military whose budget almost certainly will grow at a pace with the economy, or even faster. The People’s Liberation Army is awaiting an array of sophisticated weaponry now under development, including space and long-range missiles capable of use against American aircraft carriers in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The question is how it plans to exploit them.
Timothy Garton Ash at CiF compares China and the US as they face the world with their respective new (or re-elected) leaders, and suggests that the challenges will be greater for the Chinese leader, in that the country is heading into unknown territory. Whereas America's problems are well-known the problems facing China, given its lack of openness, are buried deep, waiting to explode. But, says Garton Ash, we better hope that both superpowers get it right, as we'll all be affected:
Now here's the rub. We, in the rest of the world, have an existential interest in the success of both America's and China's reforms. The bellicose edge to confrontations in the Asia-Pacific region between China and US allies such as Japan is deeply worrying at such early stage of an emerging superpower rivalry. A recent Pew poll shows mutual distrust between the Chinese and US publics growing rapidly. Unhappy countries, unable to solve their own structural problems at home, are more likely to vent their anger abroad. We must want them both to succeed.
Well, yes, but though an equivalence between the two countries might play well with the Guardian readership, in truth they're somewhat different. The likelihood of China playing the aggressive nationalist card to distract its unhappy citizens is worryingly high. The likelihood of the US doing the same, on the other hand, is vanishingly small. If times get tough in America, the electorate isn't going to be thrilled about military adventures across the other side of the Pacific. It's the difference between an informed populace in a democracy and a populace largely kept in the dark and without any power.
At least Garton Ash doesn't suggest that the Chinese system is actually more legitimate than the American. Intellectuals being what they are, though, there'll always be someone to make the case.