Keith Richburg of the Washington Post takes on the question, and writes about some of the different views:
One opinion holds that the governing approach will be different only because a more modern, sophisticated citizenry is demanding it.
“The social and political mood in the country has changed,” said Li, from Brookings, who is an expert on China’s elite politics. “Their policy will be profoundly different — that is the people’s expectation. New leadership produces new policies, period,” he said. “If they do not change, that itself is a problem.”
Wu Jiaxiang, a political analyst in Beijing, agreed. “No matter if they want it or not, dramatic changes will happen in China the next 10 years,” he said. “The domestic situation is reaching tipping point right now. People’s self-awareness is wakening.” Of Xi, he said: “One of his missions is to save the party, like by changing the system of dictatorship into a multi-party system. This is not a question of whether he is willing to do it or not. He has to do so.”
But many others, here in China and outside, are less certain. According to this view, Xi is mostly a consensus choice among competing factions, and power is now exercised by a collective leadership, so the new country’s new rulers are likely to move cautiously, if at all, particularly on issues of reform.
“I am not optimistic about the politics of China in next few years,” said Mo Shaoping, a human rights lawyer. “I don’t think that the dawn of democracy, free speech and the religious freedom will come to China in the next term.” He sees the likelihood of tighter control, saying, “with the growing power of the grass-roots society, the authorities will try harder to crack down against it.”
Nicholas Bequelin, the senior China researcher for Human Rights Watch based in Hong Kong, said, “I think the outlook is not promising.”
Besides the incoming leader being “a consensus candidate” with limited authority, Bequelin said another factor was the rise in power, and budget, of China’s security apparatus, which now has a higher budget than the military.
“You never know,” Bequelin said. “The aspiration of the Chinese citizenry is going in a very clear direction. They want greater freedom, greater freedom of expression and the rule of law. You never know if a leader will decide they should respond to it, and benefit from it.” He added, “There’s not a lot of optimism at the moment.”
I don’t think he gave enough time to the idea that the transition might bring real change for the worse, as a new generation of leaders finds itself feeling incredibly insecure and leans on the military and increased restrictions and surveillance to make up for it.