China's new leader faces task of reforming country

Angus Walker

Former ITV News Correspondent

General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Xi Jinping (Left). Credit: REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Just before midday, 59-year-old Xi Jinping walked out from behind a screen in the Great East Room inside the vast Great Hall of the People. Taking his first public steps as the man confirmed to lead China's new paramount leader.

There was applause from the Chinese state reporters and crews but otherwise little fanfare. He led his six colleagues out onto a red carpeted stage.

He is the first man born in the capital, Beijing, to be selected as leader.

ITV News' China Correspondent Angus Walker reports:

Amid a sense that change is not just wanted, but needed within China; Xi said he would work to meet the expectations of the people, this is a "historic battle" he said and "we will be working hard for the great renewal".

At times it almost felt as if he was making an apology to the Chinese people, who he praised: "ours is a great people." He admitted that the people "yearn" for better education, healthcare, prosperity and a "more comfortable environment". He mentioned the word 'people' more times than he mentioned 'party'.

An apparent apology for a lack of reform and for the corruption within the Party's ranks, even at the very top. He promised that "corruption, taking bribes...must be addressed with great efforts".

"The party faces many severe challenges", he added "and there are also many pressing problems within the party that need to be resolved, particularly corruption, being divorced from the people, going through formalities and bureaucracy caused by some party officials."

On the issue of reform he said the leaders should "liberate our way of thinking...and continue reform and opening up."

On the internet his speech seems to have been broadly welcomed. People have been posting messages saying they liked his more informal style, a contrast from the stiff, unsmiling Hu Jintao who he replaces. Others thought he was warm and looked comfortable talking to the world. Although one post thought this was not a 'new dawn' for China: "No dawn, dark, very dark", it read.

Behind him a huge painting of the Great Wall of China snaking over the mountains. A reminder that China has only relatively recently, opened up and allowed access to the rest of the world.

While Xi Jinping's words seemed to suggest he would welcome more reform, both political and economic, some of the other members of the powerful Standing Committee - China's ruling body, are seen as hardliners. Liu Yunshan is the head of the Party's propaganda department and his promotion can only signify that censorship and a zero tolerance approach to criticism of the Party will remain key tools of China's government.

Zhang Dejiang has a degree in Economics from North Korea. Not a man you'd imagine would embrace extensive political reforms. He's also known for his crackdowns on the media and dissidents.

Xi and the new Premier Li Keqiang are seen by many, including Western diplomats, as the men who will change China by introducing a more liberal economy and political atmosphere. Both have commissioned work which studied the impact of economic reforms on China's future. Xi and Li are both another ten years younger than the previous leaders.

Xi Jinping is the first Party General Secretary and Chairman of the Military Commission to be born after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949. Xi was born in June 1953. Xi Jinping has a daughter at Harvard and a niece married to a British businessman, who also live in Bejing. He's not a man secluded from the rest of the world.

Xi Jinping kicks a football during a visit to Croke Park in Dublin. Credit: Julien Behal/PA

However, a word of caution, Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, are part of a committee system of government. No one leader can strike out on their own and every leader would think very carefully before proposing ideas that would be seen as too radical.

Taking power away from the Party goes against the central founding principles of the Chinese Communist Party's thinking. China's leaders are selected not because they are charismatic individuals but because they ARE committee men, keen on compromise and, above all, keeping the party in control of the country