China's new leadership and why it matters to PH
MANILA, Philippines - After the American people re-elected President Barack Obama for the next 4 years, the Chinese people have no say about what seven men will decide about China's future.
The 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPP) kicked off on Thursday, November 8 with -- as usual -- no major surprises expected and all eyes on Vice President Xi Jinping, slated to succeed President Hu Jintao as the next leader of the Asian superpower.
What does this mean for the Philippines? Will China's new leadership pursue better relations with Manila or continue asserting its sovereignty over the whole South China Sea, including Scarborough Shoal?
There is no clear answer, but it is safe to say that territorial disputes with neighboring countries will be low on the list of the incoming leader, set to take over at a time of growing internal pains for the ruling CPP.
Five years after the last CPP Congress in 2007, much has changed.
Hu is on his way out, the Chinese economy is slowing down and the party has been hit by a recent string of scandals -- Bo Xilai expulsion, Wen Jiabao wealth expose -- which threaten to undermine its grip on power.
Xi will inherit from Hu a China which is now the world's second largest economy, a military power on its own and embracing national pride after decades of playing second fiddle in Asia to high-tech Japan.
At the same time the Middle Kingdom has also seen its once unbridled economic growth rate slow down to 7.5%, which only bothers the many new rich but matters much more to the hundreds of millions who still live in abject poverty, most of them migrant workers.
The CPP has also been deeply hurt by seemingly endless cases of corruption, turning the party into an institution widely perceived as corrupt by most Chinese despite efforts to silence the media and censor the Internet.
China's domestic problems are coupled with the slowdown of their main export markets, the US and Europe, which is starting to make Beijing reconsider its up until now successful economic policy based on exports and heavy foreign investment rather than local consumption.
What Xi may, or may not do
The son of a revolutionary leader and married to a pop star, CPP apparatchik Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping is so reclusive that he is a mystery to most, especially in the West.
No one really knows how he made it to the top of the party, what his views are and in which direction he plans to lead China, first as CPP Secretary General and later as President when Hu steps down next year.
Xi's appointment to the the top political position in the country appears to be a compromise, a lesser evil to placate hardliners and reformists represented in the CPP Politburo, the key elite group of seven bureaucrats that lead the party.
Most experts agree he will not undertake any major policy shift, at least at the beginning of his tenure while he works to consolidate his power maintaining consensus within the Politburo.
Analysts say Xi, though reform-minded, will be unable to push any type of change in the current scenario of low economic growth, multiple threats of civil unrest and perceived corruption in the CPP.
His job will be tougher than Hu's, as the current President built on earlier reforms to steer China through a decade of unprecedented growth and development that culminated in the showcase 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
The leader-in-waiting's challenge is to transform the Chinese economy from an embryonic capitalist structure of rampant growth and scant focus on domestic consumption into a system of more sustainable development supported by social services demanded by the people.
If Xi performs well, Hu will be more prone to allow him to take over the Central Military Commission or military leadership, which the former is technically not obliged to give up until he wants to.
Impact on PH
So what is in store for the Philippines?
Two months ago, Hu refused to meet President Benigno Aquino III at the APEC Summit in Russia, but weeks later Xi agreed to sit down with Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas to simmer down tensions after the Philippines decided to start using the official name West Philippine Sea for all the territories it claims in the South China Sea.
While he works on securing his grip on power, it is unlikely that Xi will pursue a more aggressive policy on the South China Sea, where foreign observers say Beijing has much less to gain on the domestic nationalist propaganda front than in the East China Sea with Japan, or even South Korea.
The new Chinese leadership has other, more pressing concerns, and will probably push for more dialogue with ASEAN than under Hu.
That is to the Philippines' advantage, and an opportunity for both countries to mend ties strained by last April's standoff over Scarborough Shoal.
Last but not least, Obama's re-election in the US can also contribute to initially maintaining the status quo and later on in the future working on a workable solution for all concerned parties, with Washington support, not meddling. - Rappler.com