In 2012, two of the world’s remaining Communist regimes completed two very different leadership handovers. The isolated pariah regime in North Korea saw the ascension of Kim Jon Un, the well-fed third son of the deceased Dear Leader Kim Jong Il. Despite initial rumors that Pyongyang’s top brass had been readying themselves to oust the pudgy Kim, he appears to have consolidated his power and is steadily building his own cult of authority.
In neighboring China—the country that some observers believe has a de facto veto over the affairs of its dependent neighbor, North Korea—a once-in-a-decade leadership transition took place amid a whirlwind of Chinese whispers. A high-profile corruption scandal involving onetime Communist Party rising star Bo Xilai led many to puzzle over the power struggles taking place behind the opaque façade of Beijing’s “harmonious” rule. China’s newly anointed leader, Xi Jinping, is a character outwardly almost as bland as his predecessor, President Hu Jintao. Xi assumes control of a 21st century juggernaut flexing its muscles on the international stage, yet dogged by an ever-present domestic fear of social unrest should there be any slowdown in the country’s breakneck economic growth. Neither Xi nor any of his fellow newly tapped members of the party’s elite Standing Committee are thought to be reformers. How they navigate the domestic and international challenges of their decade at the top will be critically important in shaping global events.
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