Addressing the media after the Communist Party’s 18th national congress formalized his appointment as party general-secretary and military chief, Xi raised eyebrows with his frank admission of failings.
“Under the new conditions, our party faces many severe challenges, and there are also many pressing problems within the party that need to be resolved, particularly corruption, taking bribes, being divorced from the people, going through formalities and bureaucracy caused by some party officials,” he said.
“To address these problems, we must first of all conduct ourselves honorably,” Xi said.
“Our responsibility is to work with all the comrades in the party to uphold the principle that the party should supervise its own conduct and run itself with strict discipline, effectively solve major problems in the party, improve our conduct and maintain close ties with the people.”
Xi also said the Chinese people wanted better education and health care, jobs and higher incomes, and a better environment. But – in comments that will jar in Tibet and Xinjiang in particular – also claimed that China was a country “where all ethnic groups live in harmony.”
Although many in the United States and other nations are watching China’s transition closely, Xi’s statement had little to say on China’s relations with the rest of the world.
There was only a vague reference to China standing “rock-firm in the family of nations” and making “an even greater contribution to mankind,” as well as a closing appeal to media organizations to “make more efforts and contributions to deepening the mutual understanding between China and countries of the world.”
An editorial Friday in People’s Daily, a Communist Party mouthpiece, said a report presented to the party’s congress had spelled out the future direction of China’s relations with other countries.
“Peaceful development is China’s basic state policy, and win-win cooperation is a banner for China’s friendly relations with other countries,” it said.
“At the same time, the country will resolutely safeguard its national sovereignty, security, and core interests. The two policies are two pillars of Chinese diplomacy, and do not conflict with each other.”
The leadership transition that took place during the national congress saw Xi elevated to party secretary-general as well as the position of chairman of the party’s Central Military Commission (CMC), a body mostly made up of senior generals overseeing the People’s Liberation Army.
In contrast, Xi’s two predecessors, Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin, both became head of the CMC only some time after they were appointed party secretary-general – in Jiang’s case five months later, in Hu’s case almost two years later.
The Communist Party-affiliated Global Times quoted Huang Weiping, director of the Institute of Contemporary Chinese Politics Research in Shenzhen, as saying it was a “pleasing surprise” that on this occasion the outgoing leader had not held onto military power after handing over top party post.
“It’s a great step forward in political civilization,” Huang commented. “The new party leader now commands the military, not the other way around. It meets the standards of a modern country that aims at the rule of law.”