As I walked out of a Friday morning test with a student-reporter friend, I probed his thoughts on the exam. The bags under his eyes revealed his thoughts before his words could. “What a week,” he responded. “I’m glad that’s done.”
It has indeed been an exciting week for Yale: two new presidents in two days. In a nail-biter election, President Obama re-emerged President-elect under a sea of balloons and prolific rhetoric. His podium Tuesday night rose from the ashes of roughly $6 billion in campaign spending, invocations from rock stars and Hollywood superstars and most importantly the sweat of thousands of young people — so many of them Yalies, many of them my friends. Only hours later the News’ website released another headline in all capital letters (reserved for only its most prestigious news) to declare our provost as Yale’s new president. Thousands of student emails, new counselors and committees and a university-wide forum culminated in the Corporation’s decision. All the while, a third, arguably more important, leadership transition has been unfolding “in the dark,” as the Financial Times’ David Pilling described.
What China’s leadership handover lacks in fanfare, inclusiveness and spontaneity, it substitutes with significance. As Yalies, we owe it to ourselves to pay close attention to the developments in Beijing.
From a policy perspective, Mr. Xi Jinping’s tenure will probably bear greater impact on U.S. foreign policy than President Obama’s second term. To begin with, Mr. Xi’s term should last until 2022, by which time many of us will have reached 30. His term should oversee substantive geostrategic reorientations both economically and militarily. If President Hu’s 100-minute address last Thursday offered any indication of Mr. Xi’s plans, China’s economic growth remains the ultimate priority. The OECD calculates China will overtake the United States’ economic preeminence by 2016. One cannot forget China’s role in Washington’s impending fiscal crisis. The Chinese sovereign wealth fund currently holds over $1.2 trillion in U.S. government debt, a number that should continue to rise in coming years.
China has also indicated its ambitions for maritime superiority. As the U.S. grooms military partnerships with Asian countries such as Japan, Thailand, Singapore, Australia, Malaysia and Indonesia, China’s plans in the Pacific place small territorial disputes, such as that of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, into a larger, potentially more dangerous, context. In response, 60 percent of U.S. naval ships will operate in the Pacific Ocean by 2020, up from the current 40 percent.
From a generational perspective, China’s leadership transition also presents an opportunity for young people. Some pundits believe the 18th Party Congress’ ceremonious tribute to past party leaders such as Jiang Zemin and Zhu Rongji represents the last of its kind. China’s post-’90s (lit. meaning: born between 1990–1999) generation constitutes one of the largest, most educated and online 10-year segments of China’s population. Thirty million of its approximately 150 million people avidly use the Internet. Digital learning of English is growing at 41 percent annually. In 2012, 7.8 million will have graduated from university. Students our age are already closing the decision gap between the people and the central leadership: just this year, their protests have halted manufacturing and chemical plant plans in cities such as Shifang, Taiyuan and Ningbo. In Beijing, speculation suggests Mr. Xi’s attitude toward political reform will only increase our generation’s influence under his leadership.
As an international student body of aspiring leaders, we must maintain an eager awareness of China’s leadership developments. Beijing has already sketched China’s path to global significance, but our leadership as a young global generation will draw the shadow it casts. So, for this week, let’s stay excited about leadership transition a little bit longer.
Cristo Liautaud is a junior in Davenport College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .