China: Xi's at Bat. Hu's on first

Is China’s president, Xi Jinping, preparing to transfer his enormous powers to a younger generation of leaders? Or is he quietly ensuring that no one will ever be able to dislodge him as he goes about his plan to make China the most important nation on earth? Judging from his recent actions, the answer is: both.

Xi is presiding this week over the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, which is the unchallenged power in the world’s most populous country. During a 3 ½-hour keynote speech, Xi laid out a plan to make China – and the majority of China’s 1.4 billion people – prosperous by 2050. If that timeline seems to stretch far into the future, it might be because the 64-year-old Xi expects to still be in charge then.

Since assuming office in 2013, Xi has created a cult of personality around himself like no Chinese leader since Mao Zedong. State television ran a week-long homage to him earlier this year. Newspaper headlines extol his virtues. And when he stepped to the podium to deliver his speech, the 2,338 Party delegates leapt to their feet as if their chairs were electrified.

“He has accumulated more power than anyone in China since Deng Xioping,” says Sourabh Gupta, Senior Fellow at Institute of China–America Studies in Washington D.C. Deng led the communist party from 1978 until he technically stepped aside in 1989, though he remained the most powerful man in China nearly until his death in 1997. He is widely credited with converting China from an agrarian economy into a manufacturing superpower.

“This is not Chinese glasnost,” says Gupta, referring to the efforts of former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to govern more openly. “Under Xi, there has been a widespread crackdown on individual liberties and political challenges are not tolerated. He’s almost like an emperor.”

Xi wants nothing less than to make China the new center of the world economy, displacing the United States. He calls his master plan “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” which might sound vague to Western ears, but which his countrymen understand as a better standard of living for regular Chinese, while maintaining the party’s absolute power over all aspects of their lives.

“This is not Chinese glasnost,” says Gupta, referring to the efforts of former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to govern more openly. “Under Xi, there has been a widespread crackdown on individual liberties and political challenges are not tolerated. He’s almost like an emperor.”

It is an unwritten rule that the party’s secretary general give way to someone younger when he (there have been no women leaders) reaches the age of 68. Xi shows no signs of slowing down. He will, however, install some loyal lieutenants to ensure his vision is carried out. One name to watch is Hu Chunhua, 54, the party chief of Guangdong province. He’s a loyalist and, if and when Xi decides to retire, could be China’s next leader.

For baseball fans, Xi’s at bat. But Hu’s on first.

John Moody is Executive Vice President, Executive Editor for Fox News. A former Rome bureau chief for Time magazine, he is the author of four books including "Pope John Paul II : Biography."