6 China's new leader: The secretive men whose decision will affect all of us
Published 30/12/2012 | 06:00
The US election was the most expensive, the most watched, the most analysed and certainly the most tweeted political contest of the year. But it may not be the most significant.
Further to the east, a transfer of power was happening in that ostensibly seamless way in which the Chinese like to do these things.
On November 15, a week or so after the re-election of President Obama, a row of men in dark suits emerged onto the platform at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
The seven men make up the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party – effectively the cabinet of the Chinese government.
The rearrangement – re-election is perhaps too strong a word – of the committee represents a once-in-a-decade transfer of power. November's event was only the second peaceful transition since the foundation of modern China.
Who the seven men were, and what they believed, became the subject of much academic and media analysis, in the way Kremlinologists used to try to decipher the nuances of the old Soviet political system.
After months of backstage positioning and political elbowing, Xi Jinping emerged as the leader of the party, the government and the military. He will be remembered by Irish people following his visit here last February while still Chinese vice-president.
The emergence of Xi Jinping represents a social and generational change as China moves away from the group of revolutionaries who established the People's Republic.
However, Xi (59) has strong links to the old leadership. His father was a comrade of Mao Zedong. His family were exiled during the Cultural Revolution when he was nine years old. They were sent to the remote province of Shaanxi to "learn from the masses".
Some commentators think that this dual existence – a "princeling" brought up in the top officials' compound in Beijing and the hard life of an internal exile – means Xi will be more in touch with ordinary Chinese than his predecessors.
Among Chinese, he is seen as being a bit more flamboyant than Hu Jintao, the man he succeeded as leader. He also has a famous wife, Peng Liyuan, a singer with the People's Liberation Army.
Xi will rule for 10 years, a period during which many economists expect China to overtake the US as the world's leading economy.
If, or more probably when, that happens, more people will wish they were looking east rather than west last November.