Next in line: China's future leader pays a courtesy call
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China's vice president, Xi Jinping, paid a visit to the United States last week and, while vice presidents typically don't draw that much attention, this one is the heir-apparent to President Hu Jintao.
Mr. Xi's designation dates from a couple of years ago. The change is likely to occur early next year. China will also likely be changing prime ministers, from Wen Jiabao probably to Li Keqiang.
To Americans it is still startling to see such tectonic political changes take place in China without elections and all the untidiness that surrounds them, in the world's most populous nation (4 times as many people as the United States) and the world's second-largest economy.
The process by which China's leaders are chosen is not entirely arbitrary. For a leader to scramble to the top of the Communist Party hierarchy to the leadership of the nation, many boxes need to be checked, including obtaining the approval of the leadership of the People's Liberation Army.
Mr. Xi's five-day visit to the United States seems to have gone well, a promenade down the catwalk and back. He met with America's political leaders, including President Barack Obama, his counterpart Vice President Joe Biden and congressional leaders. He visited the Department of Defense, the West Coast and the state of Iowa, repeating a stop he made there as an agricultural researcher in 1985.
He smiled a lot and didn't say much, undoubtedly seeking to avoid trouble at home. There was plenty for him to discuss with U.S. leaders. America owes China some $1.2 trillion. Two-way trade in 2011 was $446 billion, with the balance greatly in China's favor. The United States has outstanding gripes about how China values its currency and its sometimes predatory trade practices.
On the foreign affairs side there is North Korea, China's opposition to trade sanctions against Iran and Syria, and U.S. criticism of China's rough-handed human rights approach to Tibetans, Uighurs and other dissidents. It was apparently a good "getting to know you" trip. If previous practice prevails, Mr. Xi will be president of China for 10 years.
Correction/Clarification: (Published February 22, 2012) China's population is about four times the size of the United States'. An editorial Monday on China's vice president gave an incorrect differential.
First Published February 20, 2012 12:00 am