China is likely to undergo changes after Xi Jinping establishes his regime as the country's next top leader, says Jon Huntsman, the former US ambassador to China. The former Republican presidential candidate, who was stationed in Beijing between August 2009 and April 2011, made the comments in Taipei on Tuesday during a discussion with Taiwan's main opposition leader Su Tseng-chang.
"I believe that the leaders in China understand that change is inevitable," Huntsman told Su during the public portion of the discussion.
"It can't happen now — because it's a political year," Huntsman added, in reference to the Chinese Communist Party's upcoming 18th National Congress, where Xi, currently vice president, is expected to replace Hu Jintao as the next leader of the country.
Once the national congress is over, changes will follow because Xi will be the first Chinese leader in three generations not to have been personally anointed by the late Deng Xiaoping, Huntsman said.
The new leadership in Beijing, however, will not be keen to proceed too quickly due to "concerns about instability," meaning changes are unlikely to be implemented until Xi's regime has stabilized, which may take two to four years, he added.
Huntsman, who served as a Mormon missionary in Taiwan between 1979 and 1980 and lived in the country in the late 1980s, said Xi will face three new challenges as China's new leader. "Is China becoming more repressive domestically? Is China becoming more nationalistic economically? Is it becoming more assertive internationally in terms of its military affairs?" he asked.
On the saga of the former Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai, ousted for alleged corruption and covering up a murder committed by his wife in China's biggest political scandal in 20 years, Huntsman said the complicated case could bring positive change to China in terms of greater political transparency and awareness of official corruption.
On China-Taiwan relations, Huntsman said, "Taiwan will continue to grow and expand; China will move toward greater reforms. Having a sensible cross-strait policy is in the interests of both sides."
Su said his party, the Democratic Progressive Party, is also following the events leading up to the 18th National Congress very closely, and will conduct a series of seminars and internal meetings before its scheduled date of October to better understand China.