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i Editor's Letter: the Chinese elections are worth watching

 

As the world obsesses over Barack or Mitt, scarcely any attention has been paid to the other election going on this week; the one where Xi will take over from Hu. These are not household names — other than perhaps to the 1.3bn people they will govern for the next decade in China.

The biggest election where nobody* (*in the general population) votes affects our lives arguably just as much as who gets four years in the White House. However, as Xi Jinping prepares to be confirmed as Chairman and successor to Hu Jintao at the 19th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, we know very little of his character and less of his beliefs, let alone his tax returns, birth certificate or views on Big Bird.

Beijing is on lockdown for the election of the nine-man Politburo Standing Committee. Xi doesn't become President yet — that happens at the National People's Congress next year, but he has long been the anointed one. Of course things can go wrong — look at the now disgraced Bo Xilai. But, in China, even change can be reactionary. The outgoing Hu seems determined to pack the Committee with conservatives.

It matters. China's bubble has not quite burst but is deflating alarmingly. Wealth isn't shared around, social unrest is growing and there is the nightmare spectre of conflict with Japan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands. It is said that China would prefer a Romney victory out of political cynicism (Obama has restored America's global image so damaged by Bush), despite his remarks on the yuan currency. The shame is we don't even know why we should prefer one Chinese leader over another.

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