On Thursday morning, the new chief of the Communist Party of China, Xi Jinping marched to the stage along with six other men who will steer the world's number two economic power and, some will say, military power, for the next decade.
They take charge at a time when unprecedented challenges confront the world economy, while China itself has to confront the consequences of its unprecedented economic growth-corruption and growing inequalities.
But the smooth transition to the sixth generation of Communist Chinese leadership, as well as the achievements of the last three decades, give the "young" team, which constitutes the Standing Committee of the 20-member Politburo of the party, uncommon confidence.
The strong mandate given to the 59 year old Xi has been underscored by his predecessor Hu Jintao's decision to transfer the leadership of the top party military body to him as well.
The leadership lineup includes Li Keqiang, tipped to take over as Prime Minister in March, at the same time when Xi will take over as the country's president.
Along with him is the economic specialist Wang Qishan who has been given charge of a department whose tasks include the fight against the rising tide of corruption.
Underlining the conservative outlook of the top decisionmaking body is the fact that at least three of its members are known to be close to Jiang Zemin,
Hu's predecessor as the supremo of the Middle Kingdom. Jiang, 86, has been a very visible presence in the party congress to go by the photographic record of the event.
A Xinhua commentary on the party congress notes that in the party's amended constitution, reform and opening up have been highlighted as "the path to a stronger China" and the "salient feature" of the new period in China."
Introducing his new colleagues, Xi said that the party "was devoted to serving the people".
This sentiment also formed the core of his remarks at a press briefing subsequently.
What this means is the need to remove the angularities from the Chinese experiment-cutting back the influence of the inefficient but privileged state-owned companies, making it easier for people to migrate from the countryside to the cities, discouraging land acquisitions that trigger rural unrest and providing some sort of a process that ensures that the party remains sensitive to the needs of the people who have, given the strict censorship, no way of ventilating their grievances.
The party needs most urgently to address the issue of corruption which led to the massive Bo Xilai scandal. Bo was one of the people expecting to be promoted to the seven member Standing Committee in this party Congress.
Instead, he is in jail and could face trial soon for corruption and abuse of power.But all this must be done with the party firmly in command.
The consensus is for opening up of the economy and making the present political system more efficient, not for wholesale change.
At some point or the other, the political system must become more competitive.
There is talk of shifting the country to the Singapore model. But it is the journey there, rather than the model which is the issue. But that is clearly not a task that will be undertaken by the new sixth generation leadership.
The enrichment of China and the growth of its national power has set off trends which may not bode too well for the party and the country.
In the 1980s, Deng Xiaoping, the father of today's China, gave the party leadership a model.
This is called the 24-character strategy which called for China to "Observe calmly; secure our position; cope with affairs calmly; hide our capabilities and bide our time; be good at maintaining a low profile; and never claim leadership."
Circumstances are thrusting Beijing to assume leadership on a range of issues from North Korea's wayward ways to China's claims in South China Sea.
Observers are struck by the fact that Xi Jinping & Co will be the first of a generation of leaders who have not been handpicked by Deng himself, who passed away in 1997.
They also note the tendency of many in China to ignore the 24-character strategy because they think that the time has come for China to assume its rightful position as one of the leading nations of the world.
The Chinese elites are in a hurry to exercise the power that has accrued to them, whether it is in the area of finance and economy, or the military and diplomacy.
What does this leadership change bode for India and Sino-Indian relations? It is difficult to make a simple forecast because of the opaque manner in which China conducts its business.
The newness of the leaders makes it further difficult to determine the nature of their future policies.
While many of them Xi, Li, propaganda chief Liu Yunshan, Zhang Gaoli, Zhang Dejiang and Yu Zhensheng and economic specialist Wang Qishan are known from their work as provincial party chiefs or past official positions, there is no saying where they stand on larger strategic and international issues.
To top it all, the key official dealing with India, especially on the border issue, Dai Bingguo is also scheduled to retire over the next couple of months.
India's engagement with China is also shaped by the increasing distance that China is putting between itself and us on matters of economic growth and military power.
Expectations that India would move into the realm of double digit growth have been belied; while Chinese growth has decelerated, it remains at least two percentage points higher than India's.
In terms of military power, the distance is even greater. The Chinese have, by hook or by crook, established themselves as a major military power which sees the US as a rival, not India.
As far as its relations with Beijing are concerned, New Delhi needs to be careful in feeling its way into the future.Mail Today November 16, 2012