Few surprises in China's leadership change

Xi Jinping (L), newly-elected general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, and Chinese President Hu Jintao, 16 November 2012
Image caption Baton passed: As expected, Xi Jinping takes over from Hu Jintao

A day after China confirmed Xi Jinping as the man to lead the country for the next decade, the BBC's Beijing bureau takes a look at the impact the power handover made.

China's main state-run newscast usually runs for 30 minutes every night. On Thursday, when Xi Jinping and his six colleagues assumed power, the night newscast ran long over schedule.

"The 7 o'clock CCTV news was two hours long yesterday," complained weibo user Wang Qiao. "It delayed the airing of my favourite soap opera, Paradise 1945. I seriously need more sleep. I'm dozing off at work today."

Some in China watched the new Politburo Standing Committee line-up with avid interest.

But for most, Mr Xi's ascension to the Communist throne elicited little more than a passing glance at the televised unveiling of the new politburo.

Singled out

In the eyes of many, China's Communist Party congress was a predictable event, to be endured every five years.

Some might welcome the fact that China's political system is settling into a predictable pattern. Thursday's baton-passing ceremony marked only the second peaceful transition of power since 1949's Communist revolution.

Xi Jinping and China's new premier, Li Keqiang, were both singled out for leadership roles when they entered the 25-member politburo in 2007.

Even the rise of the other Standing Committee members was hardly a surprise. Two news outlets - the New York Times and the South China Morning Post - correctly forecast the Standing Committee roster in advance.

Most other predictions only missed the mark by a name or two.

Step by step, China is institutionalising its power transitions, reaffirming the unwritten rules that govern the Communist government's one-party rule.

Notably, term limits and retirement age limits were introduced in 2002, barring top leaders from assuming office if they were older than 67.

More than 2,300 party delegates attending the Congress obediently voted in a new 200-person Central Committee, who in turn, elected the 25-member Politburo. Behind closed doors, of course.

Changing guard

Image caption Security was tight for the duration of the congress

Amid this sense of tidy inevitability, it is easy to forget how many changes to the system were not made public until the last possible moment.

The powerful Standing Committee was downsized from nine spots to seven. It is unclear how the leaders' portfolios will change as a result.

Li Keqiang was unexpectedly promoted to the number two position in the party hierarchy, while his predecessor Wen Jiabao sat at number three.

Hu Jintao bucked tradition, relinquishing his spot as the head of the Central Military Commission, leaving Xi Jinping in charge of both the party and China's military.

Perhaps most importantly, China's greying elder statesmen were ushered onto the stage at the start of the party congress alongside the leaders holding de jure positions.

Senior leaders like former President Jiang Zemin appear to be keeping their fingers on the buttons of power long into retirement, ensuring their own protégés will carry out their bidding.

The hushed formality of the party leadership change attempts to reassure citizens that the party is firmly in control.

However, changes to the system show that China's political elites are still improvising the rules as they go.