Yesterday marked the formal end to the long and internal process of the transition of leadership for the largest country in the world, China. When compared to the fervor over the American election last week, one would easily miss the ascension of Xi Jinping. Taking control for the next ten years, Xi Jinping will lead China far into the future, and how he leads could have an even greater impact on the world than someone like United States President Obama.
10 years is a long time
Xi is the son of Xi Zhongxun, a communist guerilla and political leader whose work in Mao’s revolution was central. Xi himself worked with the communist groups from the age of 15, and began his political rise early. Considered one of the princelings — or the sons of the revolutionary leaders — he has been responsible for managing some of the largest and most economically successful regions of China. He is extremely highly educated, with doctorates in both chemical engineering and political science. It is no wonder then that he takes the reigns of the nation itself.
The new General Secretary takes over for Hu Jintao, who over the past ten years oversaw remarkable growth and transition in standards of living for many (mostly urban) Chinese. Xi faces sluggish world economic growth, but he is known as a reformer, and the world waits to see if Xi opens up China to make it more competitive.
The cost of labor in China is rising as a direct result of growth and higher standards of living. This makes China less attractive to foreign businesses for manufacturing than it was in the 90s and 00s. But at the same time, demand for goods domestically in China is booming, attracting business on the demand side. Both of these trends are opportunities for a man like Xi, however he must now face the limitations of the nation to get things done, instead of leading at the more autonomous regional level.
The biggest problem that Xi will face will certainly be one of demographics. Since China instituted the one child policy in 1979 there has been an increase in male children born. Because in Chinese society, a son brings a daughter to the household, boys are worth much more. This had led to something The Economist and others have labelled as Gendercide, with an estimated future deficit of nearly 100,000,000 girls thanks to the horrible practices of infanticide and gender screening. As the boys mature into men over the next ten years, there will be a huge shortage of partners. Society has never seen something like this before, there is no telling what the outcome might be.
Also thanks to the one child policy, and the tendency for rich families to want fewer children in the first place, China’s population will stop increasing its growth rate next year, and after a while it will fail to keep up with the death rate, meaning the population will begin shrinking. This is terrible news for China’s pension system, which, like those in other nations, requires more workers paying in than those receiving pensions. This will also happen before China is rich, where the is not much wealth passed between generations to make up for inadequate pension payments, making government revenue and investment difficult to come by, thereby stagnating the rising standards of living.
It begs the question, might Xi be the one to pursue major reforms on the one child policy, or perhaps even the elimination of it? Or will he relax immigration requirements as a way to continue growing the population? We think so.