SINGAPORE (Feb 26): Images of Deng Xiaoping, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and the ancient Korean leader Kim Il-sung still influence the way many people see China’s political leadership. They associate leaders of non-democratic countries with old men, ossified thinking and decisionmaking out of touch with the current decade.

This image has been incorrect for some time, with China’s leadership at all levels becoming increasingly younger and more broadly educated. This youth is in marked contrast to the leadership in Western democracies, where the age of decisionmakers, on average, is older than in China. The difference is important because it leaves Chinese leadership more open to new ideas and innovative solutions.

This may seem an oxymoron when talking of China, which remains dominated by an overriding political philosophy, despite its recasting as socialism with Chinese characteristics. However, the emergence of China as an economic power-house rests on radical changes in leadership. Deng Xiaoping is reputed to have said, “To get rich is glorious”, and this is taken as evidence of Western envy and greed and an inevitable move to Western capitalism.

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