Projecting calm, poise and a touch of humility, China’s new leader Xi Jinping introduced himself to his country and the world on Thursday, beginning with an apology.
His relaxed smile and disarmingly friendly wave as he strode onto a platform at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People were a radical departure from the stiff appearances of other top leaders including his predecessor Hu Jintao.
Emerging at the helm of a new seven-man leadership committee, he vowed to improve the lives of ordinary Chinese.
“Our people have an ardent love for life. They wish to have better education, more stable jobs, more income, greater social security, better medical and health care, improved housing conditions, and a better environment,” he said.
“They want their children to have sound growth, have good jobs and lead a more enjoyable life. To meet their desire for a happy life is our mission.”
Xi’s appointment as China’s top leader was a widely expected move, and the appearance before hundreds of foreign and domestic journalists was a rite in which the Communist Party announces its new leader every decade.
In his first comments, he apologised for starting late, in an unexpected human moment, before discussing the aspirations of China’s increasingly vocal population.
Although short on specifics, the speech before a sprawling watercolour depicting the Great Wall was delivered in a tone not often seen at China’s top level.
And it differed markedly from one Hu gave 10 years ago to the day on his ascent to power, which was heavy on communist jargon and references to socialist figures like Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.
Xi avoided mention of those communist luminaries, and expressed a desire for better relations with the outside world.
“Friends from the press,” Xi said, “just as China needs to learn more about the world, so does the world need to learn more about China.”
“I hope you will continue your efforts to deepen mutual understanding between China and the world.”
Over 19 minutes, Xi also warned that China faces numerous “severe challenges” such as widespread corruption and the party’s alienation from the country’s 1.3 billion people.
Pu Xingzu, a professor of politics at Fudan University in Shanghai, said the speech sent a message that Xi’s leadership style would be “low-key, practical, and close to the people”.
“It was short, it was practical — not really high-sounding with empty words or ‘officialese’,” he said.
Some users of China’s popular Twitter-like microblogs saw the speech as a refreshing departure.
“I hope the new crop of leaders will not disappoint the people’s hopes, will innovate and reform, and courageously strive to create a democratic and constitutional new nation,” wrote one user.
“Xi spoke well, without the old empty, cliched, bombastic and fake words we are used to hearing… it’s a good start.”