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China's communists pick country's new leader

China's ruling Communist Party has selected Xi Jinping as the country's new leader. Xi faces a faltering economy, environmental issues, demands for political reforms, as well as rampant corruption and public cynicism. NBC's Ian Williams reports.

BEIJING – China’s ruling Communist Party on Thursday selected a new seven-person leadership group fronted by Xi Jinping that will lead the world’s second largest economy for at least the next five years.

Xi, the newly selected party secretary, and his deputy, Li Keqiang -- the new members of the all-important Politburo Standing Committee -- take over a nation whose economy has quadrupled under the leadership of outgoing leader, Hu Jintao, but now faces serious environmental, political and social questions in the near future.

For Xi though, this Standing Committee appears better poised to bring about much-needed reforms than that of his predecessor, Hu.

China’s Communist Party of today governs by consensus. Long gone are the days of “Strong Man” politics where one man – a Mao Zedong or Deng Xiaoping – dictates policy for the country.

This political evolution helped produce the stability that has ushered in unprecedented economic growth.

Remarkably this week saw only the second peaceful leadership transition since the communists took power in 1949.

David Gray / Reuters

A customer stands with restaurant workers underneath a painting of Chinese characters that read "Long-lasting Prosperity", as they watch television showing the new leadership of China's ruling Communist Party.

The new leadership committee announced Thursday represents a rare balance of differing political agendas and alliances.

Men like Li Keqiang – probably the party’s best educated leader – and Wang Qishan – a strong voice for the opening up of China’s economy – are likely to be liberal voices for reform.

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Meanwhile Zhang Dejiang – the faithful party stalwart who took over for the deposed Bo Xilai – and Liu Yunshan – the long-time czar of the Communist Party’s Propaganda Department – represent strong conservative voices.

The other two members, Zhang Gaoli and Yu Zhengsheng, both come from postings in Tianjin and Shanghai respectively and have shown signs of being centrists on issues.

Ironically, it is the new Party Secretary and soon-to-be President, Xi Jinping, who is the greatest mystery – a veritable political cipher.

While the candidates are scrutinized and skewered by the media in the U.S., China's new leader Xi Jinping remains a man of mystery among his citizens. NBC's Ian Williams reports

Yawns and other expressions of boredom as China's Communist Party Congress begins

But that now seems to be the path to the top position in China: The less known about you politically, the greater the chance of promotion.

There have been some questions raised about the various appointments that came out Thursday.

Outgoing President Hu Jintao’s decision to give up his seat on the important Central Military Commission was either a magnanimous demonstration of statesmanship on the part of Hu -- who had to wait two years until his predecessor, Jiang Zemin, gave up the post -- or a resounding defeat as Hu's important political allies did not appear to have made the final seven of the standing committee.

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Another intriguing development was the appointment of Wang Qishan to the Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.

Wang has garnered a reputation as an effective “fireman” on sensitive issues affecting the party and in recent years has served as a capable counterpart to U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

But, at a time when serious economic concerns regarding the stalling of market reforms and the rise again of centrally planned, state-owned enterprises in China have plagued Beijing, it is a curious move to shift Wang, the strongest voice for economic reform in the party.

His shift to the top disciplinary position in the party means Wang will be able to bring about positive economic development by attacking a larger issue plaguing both party and country: corruption.

As China’s economy continues to develop in size and sophistication, the need for better standards of practice economically and politically have slowly started to manifest itself.

There is some optimism now that with a reformer like Wang in place, there will eventually be the political will at the highest levels to bring about a serious reckoning on systemic corruption at both national and local levels across the country. 

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