Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 12/2012

China's leadership: handover The changing of the guard

October 2012

Economist Intelligence Unit


On November 8th this year China will begin the once-a-decade process of changing its leaders, with the launch of the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). This will, by coincidence, come just two days after the US presidential elections. Both events will have momentous repercussions, both for the countries involved and for the world, but they will mark a study in contrasts. Unlike the US, China’s succession battles are being waged in near secrecy, yet observers are already sure who the next president and premier will be. Less clear is what exactly China’s new leadership will stand for. This report will examine their backgrounds and policy positions, asking what we can expect from the incoming administration. China’s political system is complex. The country is essentially run by two parallel systems of government that interlock at every level: the CCP hierarchy and the state one. The state system is headed by the president, with the premier leading the State Council (cabinet) and its various ministries, and the National People’s Congress (NPC) serving as a legislature. This branch of the government is important, particularly in terms of day-to-day administration, but plays very much a subservient role to the parallel CCP one. The party system, in turn, is headed by the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) under the leadership of the CCP general secretary. Under the PSC, which currently has nine members, comes the Politburo, then the party’s Central Committee.