China Leadership Monitor

The Case of Xi Jinping and the Mysterious Succession

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The conclusion of the Fourth Plenum of the 17th Central Committee in September without making widely anticipated leadership changes—especially with regard to Xi Jinping, the presumptive successor to top leader Hu Jintao—represented a significant departure from practices followed over the past 20 years in the highest echelon of PRC politics.  Beijing has offered little by way of public explanation for its deviation from precedent, and in the resulting information void, the range of rumors and competing interpretations put forward in the independent Hong Kong press and by foreign observers has been correspondingly wide-ranging.  Seen in the context of broader trends in leadership politics, and absent any indication that Xi has fallen out of favor, however, the plenum's abstention from making leadership changes may reflect broader reforms in leadership selection procedures being implemented in anticipation of the Party's 18th Congress in 2012.