The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), meeting in the plenary session of the 18th Party Congress, elected the new Central Committee. In turn, the Central Committee elected the Politburo and its Standing Committee. It also elected the new General Secretary of the CCP, Xi Jinping.
For the Philippines and other countries in the ASEAN, it means a respite from the pressures of Chinese domestic politics as competing groups within the CCP momentarily close ranks around the new leadership. The tensions of border disputes in the West Philippine Sea (or the South China Sea) are expected to de-escalate although the position of all parties, including China, remains the same.
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What is expected, on the other hand, is an intensified diplomatic offensive by the new Chinese leadership to regain lost ground in terms of regional goodwill brought about by the disputes. On a more strategic level, it has to match the re-elected US Obama administration’s own diplomatic offensive.
The United States has made hay while China was embroiled in the border disputes. It has tightened relations with the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, and Vietnam and dramatically opened lines to Myanmar. It also pursued its “Asian pivot” policy more vigorously.
With President Obama’s re-election, there is a fresh mandate for existing US Asian policy and it is to be expected that handling China—within the context of the latter’s emerging as a global power—will be the centerpiece of this policy. China’s new leadership is challenged to respond to this from an unfamiliar new perspective; its handling of its neighbors may well test its capacity as a responsible global power.
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China’s domestic challenges revolve on its maintaining its growth momentum in an increasingly failing global economy. The fast-paced growth of the last 30 years has not benefited all sectors of the Chinese people and instead—rather paradoxically for a socialist-oriented country—produced great gaps between the rural and the urban dwellers, between the entrepreneurs, the middle classes, and the blue-collar and rural labor. Corruption has become so pervasive that the new leadership made it a serious campaign to undertake.
The economic prosperity and disparity brings its own challenges to the political sphere with pressures coming from both the affluent middle classes and impoverished urban and rural poor for more say in governance. The CCP itself feels this pressure internally as separate groups formed within to articulate the competing reforms that challenged the status quo.
How the new leadership of the Chinese Communist Party balances all these pressures is still to be seen. What is clear at this point is that the situation will not remain the same. Procrastination on reforms has its own dangers. China as a world power is both a great opportunity and its own danger. The dragon is already awakened.