The change in Beijing's leadership, however, is at least as important as any possible switch in the western powers. Xi will be the watchdog over the world's largest foreign currency reserves, worth about €2.4 trillion (£2 trillion), and he will play a key role in determining how China can most effectively take advantage of the current weaknesses of the United States and the Europeans.
At the same time, the future president and party leader will have to come to terms with Asian neighbors like Vietnam, countries that, fearing a militarily strengthened Beijing, are increasingly seeking protection with China's Pacific rival, the United States.
Xi will also have to grapple with the biggest challenge to Chinese society, the growing social unrest in a country that produces a large share of the world's goods and whose economic miracle could be seriously threatened as a result.
Like Hu before him, Xi has been silent on all of these issues. But the new leader comes with a completely different presence, partly as a result of his family background. This distinguishes Xi, a relatively tall man, from his predecessor Hu, a stiff politician who rose through the party's ranks and, in almost 10 years in office, never removed the mask of the political functionary.
Xi is from what might be referred to as his party's aristocracy. He is one of the so-called red "princelings." He spent a privileged childhood with other children of high-ranking officials at the court of then dictator Mao Zedong in Beijing.
Most of all, however, Xi embodies the stark contradictions within a communist People's Republic in an era of capitalism. On the one hand, he comes from a relatively liberal family, politically speaking. On the other hand, he has portrayed himself as a model functionary who is true to party principles.
Until Xi Jinping’s power is solidified, one thing is clear: any hopes of a new, more conciliatory China are at best unclear as the geopolitical balance of power dramatically changes.