China's Xi Jinping faces daunting road ahead

Xi Jinping
New Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping waves in Beijing's Great Hall of the People Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012. Xi became China's new leader Thursday, assuming the top posts in the Communist Party and the powerful military in a political transition unbowed by scandals, a slower economy and public demands for reforms.
AP Photo/Vincent Yu

(CBS News) China's ruling Communist Party makes a great leap forward with new leadership. Vice President Xi Jinping, an economic reformer and the son of a revered revolutionary, will become president. But as the leader of the world's second-largest economy, Jinping will have his work cut out for him.

Jinping is a 59-year-old engineer, who is said to be affluent and confident. He will need all of his skills to lead the world's largest economy and world's most populous country through perilous times.

Jinping stepped on stage at the Great Hall of the People and onto the world stage. His job is daunting: to keep this economic powerhouse growing -- and the Communist Party in power.

Xi Jinping takes over as China's leader

Jinping inherits an economy that is slowing, while citizen discontent is growing over pollution, corruption, and the yawning gap between rich and poor. Whether Jinping deals with these challenges through reform or repression is the big unanswered question.

Since the time of Mao, the Communist Party has cloaked the personal lives of China's leaders under a veil of mystery. But as befits these more open times, we do know a little more about the life of Xi Jinping. He has a daughter at Harvard and a famous wife: Peng Liyuan is a member of the People's Liberation Army and a popular folk singer.

China's new leader has an elite pedigree, known as a Communist Party princeling. His father, Xi Zhongxun, fought with Mao and became Vice Premier. But during the chaotic Cultural Revolution in the '60s and '70s, Jinping's father and Jinping himself were labeled reactionaries. Jinping was sent to the countryside for re-education. After his rehabilitation, Jinping rebounded quickly. He ran several bustling economic zones, including the biggest, Shanghai.

As Vice President, he visited the United States this year, met with President Barack Obama, and went to Iowa where he'd once gone on a trade mission.

Still, little is known of his political beliefs. Richard McGregor, a correspondent who was based in China for the Financial Times for many years, is the author of "The Party." He said, "Whenever there is a new Chinese leader, I think people in the west look over from afar and sort of, a natural sense of hope. They think, 'Oh, he's probably just like us.' The idea that he's going to come in as a liberal reformer, just like people thought of his predecessor, I think is nonsense."

China's leaders say this country wasn't hit by the world financial crisis because the economy is run by the state, and the new president is not likely to reform that.

For Bill Whitaker's full report, watch the video above.