'On China' -- Covering a nation in uncharted waters

A giant flower looms over Tiananmen Square as Beijing prepares for China's once-in-a-decade leadership change.

Story highlights

  • China and its so-called trade advantage has even dominated the U.S. presidential debate
  • Stout: 'On China' will provide "a deeper, intelligent look from inside the country itself"
  • Monthly show will feature thought leaders and astute observers of this world power
  • Stout: "There are no quick-edit sound bites. No populist posturing. No swooshes"

It was about time.

It was about time for CNN to broadcast a regular series on China -- a deeper, intelligent look from inside the country itself.

And the interest is out there. Anyone who watched the second U.S. presidential debate this week between incumbent Barack Obama and Mitt Romney saw the China sparks fly both on air and online.

So much so, Twitter's government and politics team pointed out that President Obama's barb to Romney, "You're the last person to get tough on China," generated some 198,619 tweets per minute. It was the second-most tweeted moment of the debate.

More: Full show times

There's been so much chatter about the Chinese trade advantage and even a so-called Chinese century. But on major Western TV news networks, there's been no regular programming on Chinese politics, industry and society.

From "Face the Nation" to "State of the Union," the U.S. has itself well covered with programming recorded from inside the Beltway. But what about a regular series on China broadcast from inside China's borders?

On China: Bo Xilai

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    On China: Bo Xilai

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On China: Xi Jinping

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    On China: Xi Jinping

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On China: The Party

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    On China: The Party

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"On China" is a new monthly show shot on location at the historic Hullett House in Hong Kong. In each 30-minute episode, I sit down with thought leaders from China as well as astute observers of this world power for a roundtable discussion about what's really driving the country.

The topic may change month to month, but the goal will be the same -- to engage, inform, and ultimately narrow the gulf of misunderstanding about China.

There are no quick-edit sound bites. No populist posturing. No swooshes. Just straight-up analysis and insight from some of the strongest China watchers out there.

For the first episode, three unique voices joined me for a focus on the Chinese Communist Party ahead of China's rare leadership transition. They included leading publisher and influential blogger Hung Huang, former top official in the Chinese Foreign Ministry (and English interpreter for the late Deng Xiaoping) Victor Gao, and award-winning journalist and China commentator John Pomfret.

Read: China's next leaders: Who's who

On the structure of the Chinese Communist Party, Hung likened it to a company. Think: China Inc..

"It's like a corporation," she told me. "The board as the Politburo names the CEO, and then you have middle management which are the ministers and the various commissions, directors and so on. So, for me, it's really like a corporate town."

As for how Xi Jinping rose to the top as China's presumed next president, Victor Gao pointed to Xi's political pedigree as well as his military links.

"He had a very unique career path," said Gao. "He literally has experience in four provinces and cities -- Hebei, Fujian, Zhejiang and Shanghai -- in addition to his extraordinary experience at the Central Military Commission."

"In addition to that, when he was in a civilian position, Mr. Xi Jinping has kept his associations with the Chinese military through various ways -- serving in the reserved forces and taking up leadership of the provincial garrison. That sets him apart from all all the current civilian leaders in China."

John Pomfret said Gao's points about Xi's ties to the military are significant, as they have been largely ignored by the Western media. Pomfret also said Xi will come to power at a time of remarkable instability for the Party.

"We're entering a new period of uncharted waters, where China's facing an enormous amount of challenges -- challenges from very charismatic and populist figures like Bo Xilai, challenges from the bottom up from people demanding more predictability in their lives, a legal system that will protect their property, a good school for their kids, clean food for their children and clean air to breathe."

How the new leadership manages the Party's political fractures and the people's growing demands will be a gripping drama to watch unfold in the years ahead... and to cover on CNN's "On China."