The Triumph of Conservative Hardliners in China's Power Transition

Don't expect any major reforms under this edition of the Politburo Standing Committee.

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Newly-elected General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Xi Jinping (L) speaks as he meets with the press with other new Politburo Standing Committee members at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on November 15th, 2012. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Oceans of digital ink have been spilled in the last two days about China's new leadership. Here is a summary of the main arguments and analyses that are trending online:

The new lineup is bad news for political and economic reform. Many commentators note that most new members of the seven-strong Politburo Standing Committee, led by Party boss Xi Jinping, are political conservatives who seem likely to prioritize social control over any transition to democracy. Writing in the Wall Street Journal (paywall), Russell Leigh Moses, the dean of academics and faculty at the Beijing Center for Chinese Studies, says: "There's a decidedly conservative cast" to the new Standing Committee. He adds that because the new leadership excluded candidates that may have "carried reform much further," such as Guangzhou Party Chief Wang Yang, "political restructuring is clearly on hold: Those arguing for an expansion of the Communist Party's role -- from the economy to culture, and a good deal in-between -- won their places and the present day."

On Twitter, economist Nouriel Roubini writes: "seven members of China's SCP [Politburo Standing Committee] are cautious & conservative. Thus, reforms will occur slowly. Reformers didn't make it to SCP or given side roles."

The new leaders see lifting social controls as something scary. Some commentators believe the new leaders are too fearful of an uprising similar to the Arab Spring happening in China to lift controls on traditional and social media or encourage peaceful protest. "We're not going to see any political reform because too many people in the system see it as a slippery slope to extinction," David Shambaugh, director of the China Policy Program at George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, told Reuters."They see it entirely through the prism of the Soviet Union, the Arab Spring and the Colour Revolutions in Central Asia, so they're not going to go there."

They will probably not push through much-needed economic reforms that challenge the dominance of state-owned enterprises. In the Financial Times, Simon Rabinvitch (paywall) commented: "Chinese officials and economists have long said the country needs to unlock consumption as a bigger driver of growth, but that is easier said than done. It will require difficult reforms, from freeing up the closely controlled financial system to curbing the overwhelming power of state-owned companies. The new leadership line-up does not appear to be the one likely to push through these difficult reforms."

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Naomi Rovnick is a Quartz correspondent based in Taiwan.

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