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Where Is Xi’s China Heading?

Regardless of which top Chinese officials appear on stage alongside Xi Jinping at this month’s Party Congress, certain fundamental issues will remain at the center of debates about China’s place in the world. Any changes in leadership will reflect differences in style, not substance.

OXFORD – The Communist Party of China (CPC) is scheduled to begin its 20th National Congress on October 16. While this quintennial gathering is typically preceded by speculation about who will sit at the high table – the Standing Committee of the Politburo – bookmakers are no longer taking bets on who will occupy the center seat. An unprecedented third term for Xi Jinping as the country’s undisputed leader is the closest thing to what we can call a certainty.

Still, that leaves six places to fill. While Li Keqiang has made it clear that he will not be pursuing a third term as China’s premier, he may still remain in the top tier, perhaps becoming chairman of the National People’s Congress, which has little autonomous power. Will his replacement bring a mild change of direction?

If it is Wang Yang, who successfully led Guangdong and Chongqing, two of the country’s most economically dynamic areas, that choice might indicate a turn toward giving the market more leeway. Or the position could go to someone not yet in the top seven, such as vice premier Hu Chunhua, who has expressed concerns about youth unemployment. That might indicate a turn toward more state intervention when it comes to jobs.

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