5. No new ideas. Perhaps of greatest concern is that Mr. Xi and his six colleagues that comprise the new Standing Committee do not have records of pushing reforms and do not seem particularly cosmopolitan. While it is unrealistic to expect the Communist Party to elevate to senior positions anyone not totally loyal to it and its control over the Chinese populace, it does need to find leaders with ideas and solutions to all of the various problems listed above. Unfortunately, Mr. Xi and his co-leaders are likely to come under pressure from elites worried about protecting their parochial interests and commoners angry at corruption and a declining standard of living. In response, it remains unlikely that the new leaders will embrace any type of meaningful reform for fear of losing political control (à la Mikhail Gorbachev in the Soviet Union 25 years ago). Given that President Hu Jintao presided over a slowdown in the growth of the private sector and a return to greater emphasis on state owned enterprises, what ideas does Mr. Xi have for ensuring continued economic growth or responding to citizens’ dissatisfaction with inefficient local government rule and continuing repression? What is Mr. Xi’s strategy for dealing with China’s problems and what type of vision does he have for the country over the next 10 or 25 years?
Should China’s new leadership merely muddle along for the next decade, then the next turnover of power in 2022 may take place under much more unsettled and less promising conditions. How will the PLA respond to a China that is growing weaker on the world stage or one whose goals are being frustrated by other nations? Will the leadership stick together if growth continues to slow or debt loads increase such that financial crises plague the nation in the coming years? These are questions to which Western and Asian governments should be paying close attention, and they should be figuring out which metrics are most important for understanding China’s current trajectory. Given the amount of information coming out of the country regarding potential problems, there is no excuse for being caught flat-footed or misinterpreting current trends. With the level of economic integration between China and the rest of the world, and the growing strength of China’s military, any disruption, weakness, or collapse emanating from Beijing will have profound repercussions across the globe.