XI JINPING BECOMES THE DESIGNATED LEADER OF CHINA
with George W. Bush Jonathan Fenby wrote in The Guardian, “Xi's rise to the top was sealed in October 2010 when a Communist party central committee plenum appointed him vice-chairman of the military affairs committee which oversees China's forces. The appointment means that Xi is perfectly placed to take on the top three jobs of secretary of the Communist party, state president and civilian head of the military. Like Hu, he will often be referred to outside China as "President Xi". But the Communist party post is much more important: China is still a Leninist state in which the party rules over the government.” [Source: Jonathan Fenby, The Guardian, November 7 2010 ~~]
Xi's appointment to the military commission completed a process begun at the last party congresses in 2007 when he received a senior rank on the supreme decision-making body the Politburo Standing Committee. He came in one place ahead of the man regarded as Hu Jintao's chosen successor, Li Keqiang. Xi was then appointed vice-president while Li became senior vice-premier. ~~
The biggest news to come out of the 17th Party Congress in 2007 was the selection of Xi Jinping---then Shanghai Party Boss--- and Li Keqiang---then Liaoning Party Boss---as members of the all-powerful Standing Committee. Both men were in their early 50s at the time and were widely seen as possible successors to Hu Jintao. Xi emerged as the favorite in part because he was introduced first and was given a slightly higher rank but the overall message seemed to be that the two men were relatively equal and would fight to be leader over the next five years with the winner being the one who performs the best. Many think that Xi was given a higher ranking because he is more highly regarded among the Communist party elite. By late 2009 Xi Jinping was seen as the favorite to be the next leader of China. Both Xi and Li are seen as ‘safe choices’ who will not deviate from the political line laid down by patriarch Deng Xiaoping, ex-president Jiang Zemin and President Hu.
Fenby wrote: “It was all very neat as the elite sought to avoid one of the pitfalls of one-party states, the succession issue that can lead to running warfare between rival contenders as happened after the death of Mao Zedong. But we have little idea of how Xi was chosen. It appears that he was the most broadly acceptable member of the new fifth generation of Chinese leaders, not just to the present standing committee but to big business, entrenched interest groups and the former party chief, Jiang Zemin. This would be a perpetuation of the consensus style of leadership which has evolved under Hu, in contrast to the individualistic rule of Mao and Deng Xiaoping.” ~~
Being named vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, which oversees the People’s Liberation Army and its branches, Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times, “fills the last remaining gap in Mr. Xi’s résumé and means that he is following the succession track that Mr. Hu took a decade ago on his way to assuming China’s top party, state and military titles.” [Source: Michael Wines, New York Times, October 18, 2010]
How Xi Jinping Became China’s President
Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times, “Why Mr. Xi emerged from relative obscurity to become heir apparent in 2007 is a matter of mystery and speculation. Some close observers of Chinese politics say the man considered to be Mr. Hu’s personal top choice as successor, Li Keqiang, another provincial leader, failed to win the backing of some members of China’s old guard, headed by the former top leader Jiang Zemin. Mr. Xi was a compromise acceptable to both Mr. Jiang and Mr. Hu, these observers say.” [Source: Wines, Op. Cit]
China scholar Willy Wo-Lap Lam told the New York Times: His moment was in 2007, when he won the support of Jiang Zemin and former Vice President Zeng Qinghong. Jiang didn’t go along with Hu Jintao’s choice of Li Keqiang as the next general secretary and wanted an alternative candidate. So he picked Xi precisely because he thought he would be an easy person to manipulate. Xi seemed to be what the Chinese call a laohaoren [a good fellow] in addition to being a team player. This was probably Jiang Zemin’s biggest mistake. Almost immediately, Xi turned on Jiang and his faction. [Source: Ian Johnson, New York Times, June 2, 2015]
Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker, “In 2007, he encountered a prime opportunity to show his political skills: a corruption scandal in Shanghai was implicating associates of Jiang Zemin, the powerful former President, who served from 1989 to 2002. Xi was sent to Shanghai to take over. He projected toughness to the public without alienating Jiang. He rejected the villa that had been arranged for him, announcing that it would be better used as a retirement home for veteran comrades.” His timing was fortunate: a few months later, senior Party officials were choosing the next generation of top leaders. Xi was expected to lose to Li Keqiang, a comrade who had no revolutionary family pedigree, and had postgraduate degrees in law and economics from Peking University. [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, April 6, 2015 ^^^]
“Since 2002, the highest ranks of Chinese politics had been dominated by men who elbowed their way in on the basis of academic or technocratic merit. President Hu’s father ran a tea shop, and the Premier, Wen Jiabao, was the son of a teacher, but Chen Yun, the late economic czar, had advised his peers that born reds, now known as “second-generation reds,” or princelings, would make more reliable stewards of the Party’s future. One princeling told a Western diplomat, “The feeling among us is: ‘Hu Jintao, Wen Jiabao, your fathers were selling shoelaces while our fathers were dying for this revolution.’ ” In private, some princelings referred to the President and the Premier as huoji—“hired hands.” In October, 2007, Xi was unveiled as the likely heir apparent. It was not entirely a compliment. “Party leaders prefer weak successors, so they can rule behind the scenes,” Ho Pin, the founder of Mingjing News, an overseas Chinese site, said. Xi’s rise had been so abrupt, in the eyes of the general public, that people joked, “Who is Xi Jinping? He’s Peng Liyuan’s husband.” ^^^
Xi Jinping Tests and Disappearance Before Becoming President
Osnos wrote: “Xi was tested by a pageant of dysfunction that erupted in the run-up to his début as General Secretary, in 2012. In February, Wang Lijun, a former police chief, tried to defect to the U.S. and accused the family of his former patron, Bo Xilai, the Party secretary of Chongqing, of murder and embezzlement. Party leaders feared that Bo might protect himself with the security services at his command, disrupt the transition of power, and tear the Party apart. In September, Ling Jihua, the chief of staff of the outgoing President, was abruptly demoted, and he was later accused of trying to cover up the death of his son, who had crashed a black Ferrari while accompanied by two women. ^^^
“Beset by crises, Xi suddenly disappeared. On September 4, 2012, he cancelled a meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and visits with other dignitaries. As the days passed, lurid rumors emerged, ranging from a grave illness to an assassination attempt. When he reappeared, on September 19th, he told American officials that he had injured his back. Analysts of Chinese politics still raise the subject of Xi’s disappearance in the belief that a fuller explanation of why he vanished might illuminate the depth, or fragility, of his support. In dozens of conversations this winter, scholars, officials, journalists, and executives told me that they suspect he did have a health problem, and also reasons to exploit it. They speculate that Xi, in effect, went on strike; he wanted to install key allies, and remove opponents, before taking power, but Party elders ordered him to wait. A former intelligence official told me, “Xi basically says, ‘O.K., fuck you, let’s see you find someone else for this job. I’m going to disappear for two weeks and miss the Secretary of State.’ And that’s what he did. It caused a stir, and they went running and said, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa.’ ” The handoff went ahead as planned. On November 15, 2012, Xi became General Secretary.” ^^^
Xi Jinping’s Image Before He Became President
Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker, “Before Xi took power, he was described, in China and abroad, as an unremarkable provincial administrator, a fan of American pop culture (“The Godfather,” “Saving Private Ryan”) who cared more about business than about politics, and was selected mainly because he had alienated fewer peers than his competitors. It was an incomplete portrait. He had spent more than three decades in public life, but Chinese politics had exposed him to limited scrutiny. At a press conference, a local reporter once asked Xi to rate his performance: “Would you give yourself a score of a hundred—or a score of ninety?” (Neither, Xi said; a high number would look “boastful,” and a low number would reflect “low self-esteem.”) [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, April 6, 2015 ^^^]
“Xi headed a Politburo Standing Committee of seven men: four were considered princelings by birth or marriage, a larger ratio than in any Politburo in the history of the People’s Republic. Western politicians often note that Xi has the habits of a retail pol: comfort on the rope line, gentle questions for every visitor, homey anecdotes. On a trip to Los Angeles, he told students that he likes to swim, read, and watch sports on television, but rarely has time. “To borrow a title from an American film, it’s like ‘Mission: Impossible,’ ” he said. But Chinese observers tend to mention something else: his guizuqi, or “air of nobility.” It can come off as a reassuring link to the past or, at times, as a distance from his peers. In a meeting at the Great Hall of the People last year, Party officials were chatting and glad-handing during a lengthy break, but Xi never budged. “It went on for hours, and he sat there, staring straight ahead,” a foreign attendee told me. “He never wandered down from the podium to say, ‘How’s it going in Ningxia?’ ”“ ^^^
Fenby of The Guardian wrote: As president-in-waiting, Xi has visited Australia, Germany, Japan and the Americas. According to people who met him on these trips, he was polished, interested in what he was shown and generally affable. However, in Mexico last year, he lashed out at "a few foreigners, with full bellies, who have nothing better to do than try to point fingers at our country” China does not export revolution, hunger or poverty; nor does China cause you any headaches. What else do you want?"
Hints of Xi Jinping’s Policies?
Political commentator Li Datong told The Guardian that Xi’s "double background" as a member of the Communist Party elite and Cultural Revolution outcast has proved genuinely formative for princelings such as Xi and might even lead them to bolder policy making. "One aspect is their family background as children of the country's founders and the other is their experience of being sent to the countryside, which made them understand China's real situation better. It gives this generation a strong tradition of idealism and the courage to do something big," he said. But although he has openly criticised the cultural revolution, Xi embraced the party; in a WikiLeaks cable an academic who knew Xi as a young man suggested he "chose to survive by becoming redder than red".[Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, February 12, 2012]
Tania Branigan wrote in The Guardian: But while Xi is well-liked and adept at glad-handing, he appears to give little of importance away. Even his popular wife has retreated into the background as he has assumed increasing prominence. The US ambassador Gary Locke recently observed that he was "very personable" but that US officials "really don't know that much about him".
Beyond his openness to economic reforms, Xi is known primarily as a figure who appeals to different groupings and as a safe pair of hands. "In recent years he has taken care of large-scale events, including Olympics and anniversaries, and there haven't been any big mistakes. Xi has steadily been through these tests," said Zhang. Close association with particular policies or factions has its dangers. Becoming general secretary of the party, and thus leader of China, is "an issue of who opposes you rather than who supports you", said Kerry Brown, head of the Asia programme at Chatham House
Xi's networks are unusually broad, according to Brown: "Provincially; through his family; and with the military through Geng Biao. His elevation is in the interests of the widest group of people and opposed by the smallest group." It is the same relatively small elite who will determine what he can do with the job. Some think Xi's networks may allow him to strike out more confidently than Hu. Others think he will struggle to win support for bold decisions needed to tackle the country's mounting challenges. "I think he's a more instinctive and gut-driven politician and may surprise us. Others say the system and the vested interests around him are too strong," said Brown.
Some hope he shares his father's liberal sympathies: Xi senior was not only a noted economic reformer, but an ally of reformist leader Hu Yaobang. Some say he criticised the military crackdown on Tiananmen Square's pro-democracy protests in 1989. They say that grassroots organisations burgeoned during the vice-president's stint in Zhejiang, and there was progress in the election of independent candidates at local polls. But the Chinese Human Rights Defenders network has argued the province also saw "zealous persecution" of dissidents, underground Christians and activists: "His track record does not bode well," it wrote. Other China watchers point to shattered hopes that Hu might prove politically liberal.
Nor does Xi's confidence in overseas dealings necessarily indicate a more emollient approach to foreign relations. His most-quoted remark to date was made on a trip to Mexico in 2009: "There are some well-fed foreigners who have nothing better to do than point fingers at our affairs. China does not, first, export revolution; second, export poverty and hunger; third, cause troubles for you. What else is there to say?"
Yu Jie on Xi Jinping
In a piece entitled “Empty Suit” the dissident Yu Jie wrote in Foreign Policy: “Optimism pervades everywhere. Most surprising is the view of Lee Kuan Yew, the former prime minister of Singapore, who met with Xi in 2007 and concluded: "I would put him in the Nelson Mandela class of persons. A person with enormous emotional stability who does not allow his personal misfortunes or sufferings affect his judgment."[Source: Foreign Policy, February 13, 2012]
"Personal misfortunes?" That stunned me. Xi isn't any more like Mandela than Adolf Hitler is like Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Mandela spent 27 years in a dark prison for the cause of freedom and human rights. Those are Mandela's "personal misfortunes." After getting out of jail, in the spirit of forgiveness and benevolence, he transformed South Africa's society into one where different ethnicities could settle their differences. He was a man worthy of the honor of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Xi, the offspring of a high leader who temporarily fell from power, was engulfed by one of Mao's political campaigns and sent to a poor village in western China. Xi has never publicly questioned or criticized that period. He said that period of "eating bitterness" only increased his loyalty to the Communist Party.
People say Hu and Xi belong to different political factions. They say Hu comes from the Communist Youth League and is therefore more populist, whereas Xi, because he represents the "princelings" -- sons and daughters of high officials -- works in service of the wealthier coastal provinces. I think they're not that dissimilar. No matter if it's Hu or Xi, they're still only representative of the few-hundred families who make up the Chinese aristocracy. They are not in office thanks to a Western-style election, but are the products of a black-box operation. They didn't rise because they're clever and capable, but precisely because they're mediocre. They are where they are today because they are harmless to the special interest groups that run China.
Like Hu, if Xi has any special ability, it's his ability to balance himself on a steel wire. Xi served in Hubei, Fujian, Zhejiang, and Shanghai, among other places. Nowhere does he have any political accomplishments worth praising, or any offenses worth condemning. No one knows his real thoughts: He hides them even deeper than Hu did before he became chairman. Unlike Bo Xilai, a fellow princeling who has been conducting Mao-style politics in Chongqing, the city that he runs, Xi has no edges or corners. Xi's family background appeases China's senior statesmen: He's "their man." Xi was in the army; the military and other powerful departments all support him. Xi's father was a liberal, so the groups with reformist aspirations preserve that fantasy in their hearts.
In today's China, where vested interests have solidified like concrete, at most Xi is the country's "chief maintenance officer." As the Communist Party's crisis of rule grows more serious by the day, China needs a charismatic and farsighted leader. Xi is neither. The party's talent-selection mechanism has already rotted -- they're no longer able to produce people like Zhao Ziyang or Hu Yaobang, the type of excellent leaders China had in the 1980s (both were deposed by former leader Deng Xiaoping because they wanted to change the system).
They say Xi will rule us for a decade, but can this outwardly strong but inwardly weak regime maintain itself for another 10 years. Economic development cannot continue at this same speed. When Hu passes the power to Xi, he will finally be able to breathe a big sigh of relief knowing that he won't be the last king of a dynasty. Will Xi be able to say the same?
Xi Jinping's Chongqing Tour
with Biden Xi’s brief visit to the western-China metropolis of Chongqing in December 2010,Willy Lam of the Jamestown Foundation wrote in China Brief, “has given important clues about the “crown prince’s” political orientations and his relations with key Chinese Communist Party (CCP) factions.” Since becoming heir apparent to Hu Jintao, “according to long-standing tradition, Xi has largely kept his beliefs to himself so as not to be seen as upstaging his superiors. During his “Chongqing tour,” however, Xi dropped strong hints about his deeply-held ideology and aspirations. Equally significantly, Xi’s bonding with Politburo member and Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai shows that the vice-president may be putting together his own team in the run-up to taking over the helm in less than two years’ time. Seeds of conflict between Hu and Xi, respectively the “core” of the CCP’s Fourth- and Fifth-Generation leadership, might also have been sown. [Source: Willy Lam, Jamestown Foundation, China Brief, December 17, 2010]
‘since Bo became party chief of China’s most populous city in late 2007, the flamboyant former minister of commerce has made headlines with his no-holds-barred advocacy of Maoist norms. In his speeches, the charismatic Bo has profusely cited Mao-era slogans such as “plain living and hard struggle.” .... On the economic front, the high-profile “princeling” has made waves with his attempts to go after “red GDP,” a reference to economic construction that exemplifies Maoist egalitarianism. Chongqing has emerged as a national pacesetter in social-welfare policies such as providing subsidized public housing to the city’s masses.” [Ibid]
“While top central leaders including President Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao have refrained from commenting on Chongqing’s Maoist exploits, Xi heaped lavish praise on the city’s achievements during his two-day visit. Xi, who is also a ranking princeling, enthusiastically applauded the Chongqing tradition of ‘singing red songs, studying the [Maoist] canon, telling [Mao-era] stories, and passing along [Maoist] dictums.” “These activities have gone deeply into the hearts of the people and are worthy of praise,” Xi said. He indicated that they “were a good vehicle for educating the broad masses of party members and cadres about [politically correct] precepts and beliefs.” The former party secretary of Shanghai added that changhong, or singing the praises of the party’s “red” heirlooms, was “essential to propagating lofty ideals and establishing core socialist values in society.” Moreover, Xi seconded Chongqing’s myriad social security policies, especially its renowned subsidized housing schemes. “Chongqing’s public housing is a virtuous policy, a benevolent effort and a positive exploration,” Xi said. “We have to come up with more concrete measures that bring benefits to the people.” [Ibid]
“No less remarkable was Xi’s unreserved secondment of Bo’s controversial dahei or anti-triad campaign. While having pep talks with public security officers in Chongqing, Xi had this to say about the city’s “hair-raising struggle to “combat triad gangs and extirpate evil criminals?”: “Police and law-enforcement officers took the lead and went through the test of life and death to realize outstanding achievements.” “The Chongqing party committee has scored a major victory in safeguarding the basic rights and interests of the broad masses,” Xi noted. “The anti-triad campaign is deeply popular and it has brought joy to the people’s hearts,” It is notable, however, that neither President Hu nor Premier Wen Jiabao has given Chongqing’s dahei movement public endorsement. Moreover, quite a number of triad bosses nabbed by Bo had flourished during the tenures of several of the city’s former party bosses and mayors who happened to be affiliates of Hu’s powerful Communist Youth League (CYL) Faction. The latter include Bo’s immediate predecessor, Wang Yang, who is currently Politburo member and Guangdong Party Secretary—and a key Hu protégé.” [Ibid]
Xi Jinping and History
Andrew Higgins wrote in the Washington Post, “Xi has been particularly active in stressing the need to get history right. In a keynote address at a “history work conference” last summer, he called on all party members,” numbering nearly 80 million,” to “resolutely combat the wrong tendency to distort and smear the party’s history.” (He didn’t comment on his father.) [Source: Andrew Higgins, Washington Post, May 26 2011]
An early revolutionary and a vice premier, Xi Zhongxun fell from favor in 1962 amid calls by Mao to step up “class struggle” against those accused of seeking to restore capitalism. Xi, who vanished from public view for 16 years, got caught up in an obscure internal feud over a novel called “Liu Zhi Dan.” Mao saw the book as part of an alleged plot to rehabilitate Gao Gang, an earlier purge victim who killed himself. [Source: Andrew Higgins, Washington Post, May 26 2011]
The new official party history skirts details of the saga and blames Xi’s downfall mostly on the machinations of Mao’s security chief, Kang Sheng. Branding Xi and others as members of “an anti-Party clique” was “totally wrong,” the history says. Xi was finally rehabilitated after Mao’s death.
In May 2010. Qiushi, or ‘seeking Truth,” the official magazine of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee published an article by Vice President Xi Jinping on improving official writing or speech styles. At an opening of the CPC Central Committee Party School's spring semester, Xi told more than 900 officials and new student cadres that they must eradicate “empty words” and political jargon from their speeches and documents. He also urged Party leaders to learn “colloquial wisdom” from the public and make their speeches and articles more easily understood by common people. [Source: Xinhua, Global Times, May 16, 2010]
Xi Jinping, the Maoist?
Willy Lam wrote in China Brief: “On the Biden visit, Xi confirmed earlier impressions of being a conservative who is a fervent believer in many aspects of Chairman Mao Zedong’s teachings. Moreover, his strong ties to the "princeling generals" in the People's Liberation Army (PLA) may predispose him toward seeking a hawkish foreign policy, or at least support the PLA's organizational interests. [Source: Willy Lam, China Brief (Jamestown Foundation) vol. 11, no. 16 September 2, 2011]
The Chinese vice president, however, demonstrated some strongly held convictions in his remarkable talk to the students at Qingchengshan High School. "The world is yours and it is also ours; but ultimately, the world belongs to you," he said, "Young people are like the sun at eight or nine in the morning. The future rests with you." Xi was repeating verbatim what Chairman Mao told a group of Chinese students at Moscow University when he visited the Soviet Union in 1957.
While there is no evidence to suggest that Xi deliberately used Mao's famous Moscow speech to embarrass his guest, there is little doubt that China's Fifth Generation leader is an ardent believer in many aspects of Maoism. Together with another high-profile princeling, Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai, Xi has been responsible for a far-reaching restitution of Maoist norms in the past two years. For example, at a seminal address to students at the CCP Central Party School earlier this year, Xi urged students to "pay attention to the Marxist canon," especially Mao's classics. "Cadres must seriously study Marxist theory to ensure that they can maintain political resoluteness," he said. Xi added that since Marxist classics were voluminous, "we should focus on the salient points, and concentrate on studying the quintessence--particularly the important works of Mao Zedong."
Vice President Xi has never gone on the record on whether he shares Mao's hard-line policies toward the U.S. Yet he has spoken highly of such Maoist dictums as pingzhan heyi, or "the synthesis of [the needs of] peacetime and war." This means a more extensive program of training reservists and that civilian resources and facilities should be used for military purposes in times of war. Moreover, it is significant that the PLA being an important power base of the supremo-in-waiting, Xi has lent his support to the no-holds-barred modernization of military hardware. Indeed, a good part of the confidence with which Xi has impressed the Biden delegation may have sprung from the fact that the vice president's fellow princelings have become arguably the largest faction within the military establishment, compared to, for instance, officers who still profess allegiance to President Hu.
Xi Jinping Pledges Tough Line on Tibet
In July 2011, Reuters reported, Xi Jinping pledges a hard line on Tibet, vowing to crack down on separatist forces he said were led by the Dalai Lama, suggesting that China’s heir apparent to the presidency will not ease Beijing’s hard-line stance toward the region. Xi, made the remarks in his first major speech on the subject, just days after the exiled Dalai Lama leader met US President Barack Obama in Washington, angering China. [Source: Reuters, July 20, 2011]
“[We] should thoroughly fight against separatist activities by the Dalai clique by firmly relying on all ethnic groups ... and completely smash any plot to destroy stability in Tibet and jeopardize national unity,” Xi said in front of Lhasa’s Potala Palace, the traditional seat of the Dalai Lama...The extraordinary development of Tibet over the past 60 years points to an irrefutable truth: Without the Chinese Communist Party [CCP], there would have been no new China, no new Tibet,” Xi said, at an event to mark 60 years since Tibet’s “peaceful liberation.”
Rights groups have been watching Xi’s trip to Tibet closely for signs of how policy toward the region may change. “Very little is known about [Xi’s] opinions on Tibet, except that his father, Xi Zhongxun, who was a former Chinese vice premier, was close to the 10th Panchen Lama and also knew the Dalai Lama,” said Alison Reynolds of the International Tibet Network.
“In the 1980s, when Tibetan envoys visited Tibet and met with Xi Zhongxun, they saw that he had treasured a gold watch that His Highness the Dalai Lama had given to him many years previously,” she added. ‘so the big question for us is, will Xi Jinping turn out to be his father’s son? Will he show that he has any empathy for the Tibetan people at all?”
Xi Jinping, a Supporter of the Singapore Model for China?
Edward Wong and Jonathan Ansfield wrote in the New York Times, “In the summer of 2010, the political theorist said, Mr. Xi had a little-known meeting at the beach resort of Beidaihe with Lee Kuan Yew, the former Singaporean prime minister who espouses flexible authoritarianism. Before that, Mr. Lee met with Mr. Jiang, the former party chief. At the time, Mr. Xi and Mr. Jiang came to an understanding “to try to adopt the Singapore model down the road,” said the theorist, who was asked to provide feedback for a project to study the issue. [Source: Edward Wong and Jonathan Ansfield, New York Times, October 21, 2012]
Mr. Xi visited Singapore that November, and other top officials have followed. Last year, Gen. Liu Yazhou, an advocate of party reform , dispatched a team of military officers to live in Singapore and prepare a study, which is expected to be presented to Mr. Xi after the transfer of party posts in November. Bo Zhiyue, a scholar at the National University of Singapore, said the group’s mission was to “find a solution for China after the 18th Party Congress.”
That will not be easy. In the period leading up to the congress, tensions have emerged between Mr. Xi and Mr. Hu, the current party chief, over setting the official policy direction for the future leadership; Mr. Xi’s absence from public life for two weeks this autumn was in part related to that, said two people who know Mr. Xi and, like him, are the “princeling” children of senior party officials. [Ibid]
And even among his supporters, there are some who question whether any adopted reform mantle would be more show than substance. “No matter whether Xi actually reforms China or not,” said a member of a prominent military family, “he has to entertain reforms, for the sake of the reformists and the public.”
Xi Jinping Pals Around with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden
Willy Lam wrote in China Brief: “Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping took the unusual step of accompanying U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s during five-day visit to China in August 2011 on a side trip to Sichuan Province in western China. According to senior aides traveling with Biden, Xi, who is also Vice Chairman of the policy-setting Central Military Commission (CMC), was "very confident, very assured" in his dealing with American officials. "Xi did not refer to notes [when talking to Biden]," one official said. "He had a very clear idea of what he wanted to convey--very strategic in his approach, quite confident in his interaction with his colleagues". [Source: Willy Lam, China Brief (Jamestown Foundation) vol. 11, no. 16 September 2, 2011]
Part of Xi's confidence and sophistication has emerged through having a better grasp on world affairs, especially China-U.S. relations. The Chinese Vice President indicated both countries should "ceaselessly boost Sino-American strategic mutual trust." Xi continued "Both sides should objectively and rationally look at each other's development and make correct judgments on the each other's strategic intentions." Even more significant is that fact that Xi appeared to give a vote of confidence to the American economy. "The U.S. economy is highly resilient and has a strong capacity to repair itself," he said in a forum of Chinese and American businessmen. "We believe that the U.S. economy will achieve even better development as it rises to challenges" This was in sharp contrast to the scores of commentaries in the official Chinese media that expressed a lack of confidence in the Barack Obama administration's ability to pull the U.S. out of the current debt and financial crises.
Tell-tale signals, however, seem to betray Xi's less-than-enthusiastic proclivities toward the United States. Before Biden's arrival in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province, a dozen-odd dissidents were either detained briefly or given severe warnings not to try to present any petitions to the American VIP. Xi was nowhere to be found during Biden's speech at Sichuan University in which the veteran U.S. politician made a pitch for "openness, free exchange of ideas, free enterprise and liberty". Xi did accompany Biden to Qingchengshan High School, which had been newly reconstructed after the horrendous 2008 Sichuan Earthquake. However, while Biden engaged in a spirited pep talk with the students, Xi, who was sitting nearby, did not seem to be paying much attention to his guest. He frequently was looking in a different direction and appeared to be either bored or lost in thought.
with Biden at a tea ceremony
Xi Jinping in the United States
In February 2012, Xi Jinping visited the United States for the fifth time in what was billed as his American coming out. The trip was scrutinized for signs of how Xi and a new generation of Chinese leaders plan to govern, and how they might deal with a war-weary and economically wounded America, still struggling to adapt to Beijing's rise. It was “an imprinting opportunity to set an impression of the man who will run China for a decade," Robert Lawrence Kuhn, an American investment banker who advised the Chinese government on the trip, told the Los Angeles Times. [Source: Barbara Demick and David Pierson, Los Angeles Times, February 11, 2012]
In Washington Xi was given a red carpet welcome. Eugene Robinson wrote in the Washington Post, “In the vast ballroom of a Washington hotel hundreds of dignitaries gathered at a luncheon to honor Xi. Xi’s status is such that he was introduced by no less than Henry Kissinger. The speech Xi delivered at the luncheon was fairly stilted and anodyne, as one might have expected. He’s not president yet, and clearly he was intent on not making headline news. China wants a “cooperative partnership” with the United States, he said, adding that his meetings with President Obama and Vice President Biden were “fruitful.” Xi referred to the U.S.-China relationship as “an unstoppable river that keeps surging ahead.” [Source: Eugene Robinson, Washington Post, February 17, 2012]
Reuters reported: “President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden appear to nurse some hopes that Xi's ascendance could bring greater Chinese accommodation. They spent plenty of time getting to know him, and he received a high-level reception at the Pentagon. In turn, Xi put a folksy smile on China's usually grim-faced officialdom by returning to Muscatine, a town in Iowa he visited as a young cadre in 1985. [Source: Chris Buckley, Reuters, February 16, 2012]
"My impression of the country came from you. For me, you are America," he told the people who had hosted him in 1985. He recalled telling the daughter of his hosts, the Dvorchaks, about the Hollywood films he enjoyed, including "The Godfather", reported the China News Service. "She was astonished and wondered how we could have seen so many American movies," recalled Xi. "Although I stayed with the Dvorchaks for only two nights, they were two nights when I directly connected with the American people," he said. "That's something I'll never forget as long as I live."
But despite the shows of bonhomie and China's effusive media coverage, Xi's visit was punctuated by flashes of the tensions. Obama, Biden and senior members of the U.S. Congress plied Xi with demands that Beijing do more to balance trade, help the United States deal with global troublespots, and relax its heavy grip on dissidents and restive Tibet. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney publicly blasted Obama's China policy and called the Democratic president's meetings with Xi "empty pomp and ceremony." It was a reminder that domestic crosscurrents on both sides of the Pacific can complicate attempts to stabilize Sino-American ties.
For his part, Xi mixed his vows of goodwill with reminders that China is impatient with U.S. arms sales to Taiwan - the self-ruled island that Beijing deems an illegitimate breakaway - and with Western sympathy for Tibetan resistance to Chinese control. "History demonstrates that whenever each side deals relatively well with the issues bearing on the other side's core and major interests, then Sino-U.S. relations are quite smooth and stable. But when it is the contrary, there are incessant troubles," he said in his main speech in Washington.
In his public comments, Xi has avoided hitting back at the Obama administration's complaints about the U.S. trade deficit and Beijing's strictures on political dissent. China's state-run media have cast his visit as a triumph of goodwill, and largely avoided reporting the barbs from Washington.
Carla Hills, a former U.S. trade representative, who met Xi in Washington, told Reuters, "I think it's very tough to develop trust and willingness to cooperate unless you know the people on the other side and have confidence in them," said Hills. "I sat next him at the luncheon. I think anyone who had tagged along behind him invisibly would have to say he did what he came to do. And that was to introduce himself."
Xi Jinping in L.A.
Noaki Schwartz of AP wrote: “Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping began the last day of his U.S. visit Friday by urging closer ties and arguing that Americans benefit from their trade relationship with China. "A prosperous and stable China will not be a threat to any country," Xi said. "It will only be a positive force for world peace and development." [Source: Noaki Schwartz, AP, February 18, 2012]
Xi started his fourth day in the United States at a downtown Los Angeles trade conference hosted by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce. His American counterpart, Vice President Joe Biden, joined him later. California Gov. Jerry Brown and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa both lauded the U.S.-China relationship. "We've got a great future together," said Brown, who announced plans to open a new trade and investment office in China. China is a major trade partner with Los Angeles, which has greatly benefited from its Pacific Rim position and has courted Chinese businesses and their potential jobs. The New York Times reported that business deals were announced, including one between Chinese companies and DreamWorks Animation, the American film company. In the afternoon in Xi was led on a tour of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, designed by Frank Gehry, by Mr. Gehry himself.
Xi wrapped up his visit at Staples Center, where he attended a Los Angeles Lakers-Phoenix Suns basketball game Friday night. Following the Lakers 111-99 victory, Xi and his party left for the airport. A day earlier, Xi toured the Port of Los Angeles, the nation's busiest port complex. Nearly 60 percent of the imports moving through the port come from China.Chinese imports have helped Americans improve their standard of living and created more than 3 million new jobs in the U.S. from 2001 to 2010, Xi said.U.S.-China trade is expected to top $500 billion soon, and the countries have moved from "mutual estrangement to a close exchange with increasingly intertwined interests," he said.
Outside the hotel hosting the trade forum, picketers protested Chinese policies in Tibet and its treatment of Falun Gong followers. Two protesters were cited for standing in the roadway but no one was arrested, Los Angeles Police spokesman Cleon Joseph said. After the trade forum, Xi and Biden visited a suburban school in South Gate that specializes in Asian studies to promote more American students studying in China. The vice presidents watched a traditional Chinese "dragon dance" performed by middle- and high-school students at the International Studies Learning Center, a public school that is part of the Asia Society's network of schools across the country. Biden told the students that the U.S.-China relationship is the single most important relationship the country has in the 21st century. Xi, who spoke with a class of high school students learning Chinese, lauded their Mandarin skills, saying it was important to learn the culture as well as the language to avoid misunderstandings.
Biden said he appreciated Xi's candor. "He is very, very direct. When we disagree, there's a clear statement of disagreement," Biden said. "I was impressed by how much he wants to know about how our system works." Xi was accompanied to the NBA game by Brown and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. In one photo op Xi was show standing with former NBA great Magic Johnson.
Xi Jinping Ends U.S. Tour on Friendly Note
Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times, Xi buffed his regular-guy image with a visit to the International Studies Learning Center in the town of South Gate, Calif., just southeast of Los Angeles. Responding to a high school student’s question during a classroom visit, he said that he likes to read, swim (his favorite sport) and watch American basketball, baseball and football. “Of course we always want more time to ourselves,” Mr. Xi said in Mandarin, the language the class was studying. “But to borrow a title from an American film, it’s like “Mission: Impossible.” The room broke up in laughter. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, February 17, 2012]
Mr. Biden told reporters after the school visit that he saw in Mr. Xi a Chinese leader with a distinctive style. “This is unusual for any foreign leader, in particular for a Chinese foreign leader, to want to expose himself this much to the American public,” Mr. Biden said. “His going back to Muscatine was not my idea. It was our idea to do many other things. But this is a guy who wants to feel it and taste it, and he’s prepared to show another side of the Chinese leadership that could be useful for Americans to see as well.”
Mr. Biden said that Mr. Xi also seemed to want to learn everything he could about the American political system. In Los Angeles Xi seemed keen to tell the students about the connection he had made with Americans in his 1985 visit to Iowa. “That trip to the United States was the first trip I made to this country,” he said. “If anything, my trip back to Muscatine the other day reinforced my impressions of 27 years ago.” But Mr. Xi may be engaging in mythmaking. Nicholas Platt, a senior American diplomat, told the New York Times that Mr. Xi had visited Washington in 1980 as part of a delegation led by Geng Biao, a top Chinese general. Mr. Xi was the general’s aide. “He wasn’t on protocol lists,” said Mr. Platt, who organized the general’s visit. “To the best of my knowledge, based on a reliable source, that was his first trip to the U.S.” Jin Zhong, a magazine editor in Hong Kong who has researched Mr. Xi, also said in an earlier interview that Mr. Xi had traveled with General Geng to Washington in 1980.
Coverage of Xi Jinping’s U.S. Trip in China
Keith B. Richburg wrote in the Washington Post , “Xi Jinping’s trip to the United States, covered in minute detail in the official media here, offered the first extended chance for the Chinese public to size up the man tapped to be their next leader. And judging from the initial reviews, Xi is proving a surprise hit with ordinary people. [Source: Keith B. Richburg, Washington Post, February 18, 2011]
Comments posted on the popular microblogging sites known as weibo—as good a barometer of real sentiment as exists in China—suggest that Xi has struck a chord by using the simple everyday language of most Chinese and sprinkling his speeches with common cultural references, including a line from a pop song and an advertising jingle.
Xi seemed at ease around his American hosts, whether climbing into a tractor cab in Iowa or sitting tie-less during the fourth quarter of a Los Angeles Lakers game as he laughed alongside Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. It’s not an image Chinese are used to after the decade-long presidency of the stiff and formal-looking Hu Jintao, who often comes across in photos as a typical Communist Party bureaucrat. And many here noted the difference.
“The Chinese style in official talks for the past 10 years is just repeating what the book says, with no taste or character,” wrote one weibo user, using the name Qianfengqingyin. “Xi Jinping’s remarks during his U.S. visit are quite vivid and new.” Another weibo user, Zongjun, said that in his speech in Washington on Sino-U.S. relations, Xi used ‘standard Mandarin, magnetic male deep voice with measured tones,” adding that Xi “has a professional TV anchorman style.”
Of course, relatively few people here have been closely following Xi’s travels—New York Knicks star Jeremy Lin is a much bigger trending topic on weibo. But in the new era of microblogging and instant news, Xi is getting far more exposure than any other Chinese leader at this stage of the transition to power, and he appears comfortable in the spotlight.
“Xi’s visit is not a hot topic. People barely know Xi,” said Michael Anti, a popular blogger and advocate of Internet freedom. But, he said, “Weibo users are following Xi’s news about Hollywood, [the] tractor, the NBA.. . . This is now a weibo era, so people can read more from reporters on the trail through their accounts.”
Many weibo users and Chinese media outlets expressed surprise when Xi, in his speech at the State Department, followed a remark about the lack of a precedent for building a cooperative U.S.-China partnership with a phrase from a song: “May I ask where the path is? It is where you take your first step.” The line came from a Chinese TV drama popular in the mid-1980s titled “Journey to the West,” also known as “The Monkey King Story” after the classical Chinese epic on which it was based.
On the sensitive issue of human rights, Xi told U.S. lawmakers that in his talks with the White House, he ‘stressed that China has made tremendous and well-recognized achievements in the field of human rights over the past 30-plus years.” Then he added, “There is no best, only better,” borrowing the advertising line of an electronics chain here that has become a popular phrase, used in everyday life.
Many Chinese also appeared to enjoy Xi’s account of how, in 1992, when he was a local party official in Fuzhou, in Fujian province, he helped an elderly American woman find the village of Guling, where the woman’s late husband had lived as a child but never had a chance to revisit. Some local TV and newspaper outlets ran pieces on Guling, including one paper that published the old People’s Daily photographs of Xi meeting the woman and the house where her husband had lived.Xi used the Guling story to tell a luncheon audience in Washington how “people to people” contacts were important for developing the relationship between the United States and China. “My friends, I believe there are many such touching stories between our two peoples,” he said. Here in China, the story seemed to put a more human face on Xi, who remains largely a blank slate for most people.
“It’s like a story from Hollywood, and it’s from Xi Jinping, and he finished second half of the story,” said one weibo user called rxu Xu Ruifeng. “It shows he has some unique ways.” Chinese are more excited about basketball than politics, and the sight of Xi at the Lakers game prompted about 9,000 immediate comments on weibo—including some noting the contrast between Xi and other leaders. “Oh, quite surprised, the serious Chinese political figures are more real now,” said one user, PohuaiguijudeR.
Xi Jinping's Disappearance
In September 2012, Xi Jinping, disappeared mysteriously for two weeks. The mysterious absence began on September 1. He failed to appear for meetings with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the visiting Singaporean and Danish prime ministers, followed by his nonattendance at a meeting of the top military commission, of which he is vice chairman. [Ibid]
AP reported: “In keeping with its secretive one-party political system, Beijing has offered not a shred of information about why Xi was not seen in public, triggering speculation he had injured his back or suffered a heart attack or stroke. Some had questioned whether he had fallen foul of President Hu Jintao or other top leaders, reflecting continuing uncertainty surrounding the succession and lingering political fallout from the downfall of a charismatic leader, Bo Xilai. [Ibid]
The New York Times said the disappearance ‘set off furious speculation on the Internet that the 59-year-old Mr. Xi’s health, either physical or political, has taken a turn for the worse. Some diplomats say they have heard that Mr. Xi suffered a pulled muscle while swimming or playing soccer. One media report, since retracted, had it that Mr. Xi was hurt in an auto accident when a military official tried to injure or kill him in a revenge plot. A well-connected political analyst in Beijing said in an interview that Mr. Xi might have had a mild heart attack...A human rights group in Hong Kong said Mr. Xi was operated on after cancerous cells were found in his liver. Other observers have suggested that the absence was politically motivated, that he was closeted away wrapping up the Bo Xilai affair.”
“A number of ranking party members with years of experience following Chinese politics were generally in agreement that Mr. Xi, 59, had suffered either a mild heart attack or a stroke, forcing him to cancel his appointments. The most reliable information we can find is that it’s his heart,” said a senior Chinese newspaper editor who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue among the party hierarchy. Li Weidong, a former editor of a government-sponsored reformist journal, agreed. [Ibid]
Xi’s disappearance ended when he was spotted walking around the China Agricultural University in Beijing. A couple days later he met U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. AP reported: “China's future leader appeared energetic in a meeting with the U.S. defense secretary, his first appearance with a foreign dignitary since dropping from public view and raising a flurry of questions about his health and turbulence in the succession process. Xi and Panetta met for more than an hour to discuss U.S.-China military relations, Pentagon press secretary George Little said. Panetta said the meeting went over the allotted 45 minutes because Xi was so focused on finding a way to improve relations. "Frankly my impression was that he was very healthy and very engaged," he told reporters later in the day. [Ibid]
An Explanation for Xi Jinping's Disappearance?
Max Fisher wrote in the Washington Post, Xi Jinping was “unseen, unheard, and undiscussed by official Chinese media at a time when the world was anxiously watching China’s leadership transition. It was weird, and a little bit scary, and we still don’t really know what happened. [Ibid] Now, longtime China-based journalist Mark Kitto says he knows “the true story.” He says his source is ‘someone with access to the top level of the Chinese governing apparatus.” [Source: Max Fisher Washington Post, November 1, 2012]
According to Kitto’s story, Xi was hit in the back with a chair hurled during a contentious meeting of “the red second generation.” These meetings of the Communist Party old guard’s elite and now-adult children, which includes Xi, come with a lot of baggage. Old rivalries, petty squabbles, and apparently fights that include flying chairs. Here’s Kitto account: “The meeting turned violent. They went at it hammer and sickle. Xi Jinping tried to calm them down. He put himself physically in the crossfire and unwittingly into the path of a chair as it was thrown across the room. It hit him in the back, injuring him. Hence the absence, and the silence, and the rumours.”
It’s a plausible story, but given its single anonymous source, probably best taken as an interesting but not yet verified account. Kitto argues that this was a lost public-relations opportunity for the party, which could have used the story to point out that Xi has the “courage to quell the squabbling about personal histories and vested interests.” It’s a common perspective among Western “China bulls” that China’s government is actually better than it seems and that its failures often come down to public relations. There’s some truth to this, but in this case it’s hard to see how rich, old elites fighting in secret meetings would boost popular attitudes toward the party. [Ibid]
Missing Xi Jinping and the Price of Official Secrecy
Jonathan Fenby wrote in the New York Times, the way in which Xi Xinping “remained out of sight for two weeks and the manner in which Beijing handled the episode provide important—and disturbing—indications of the way the world’s last major ruling Communist Party operates. It also demonstrates a serious systemic weakness that raises the risk premium in the world’s second-largest economy. Coming shortly before the Communist Party Congress, which comes every five years and is due to appoint him as its leader, Mr. Xi’s absence stirred rumors that the leadership finds particularly difficult to quash. In the past, the censors would have clamped down on the resulting speculation, but the breakneck development of social media in the People’s Republic means that the old methods no longer function. A rapidly evolving China increasingly escapes the party’s traditional control mechanisms; the regime may lock up dissidents but it cannot ride herd on hundreds of millions of Internet users.[Source: Jonathan Fenby, New York Times, September 17, 2012]
There is a striking contrast between the party’s problem with its urge to exert control, which lies deep in its DNA, and its desire for a smooth transition of power from the Fourth Generation of leaders, headed by Hu Jintao, which has ruled since 2002, to the Fifth Generation. Mr. Xi has been groomed for the last five years” but “just as he was about to ascend to the summit, China was drowned in rumors about the anointed leader’s health, rumors ranging from back trouble to a stroke to a heart attack. One Web site reported that his car was attacked by disgruntled supporters of the fallen politician, Bo Xilai, who is awaiting punishment for having displayed overweening ambition. [Ibid]
While we know very little about what actually occurred, it is becoming increasingly evident that the episode reflected something the leadership does not know how to handle. Before his weekend reappearance, the only official response consisted of the belated publication of a speech Mr. Xi made on Sept. 1 , and a report that he has sent condolences to the family of an official who died this month. [Ibid]
Whatever kept him out of public view appears to have been so sensitive that the regime prefers to say nothing, despite the additional speculation this arouses. That secrecy is par for the course. No date has been announced for the congress, although it was the subject of top-level summer discussions, and key questions about the people who will run the country for the next decade remain unaddressed in public. [Ibid]
The health of Chinese leaders is a state secret—even the initial report that Mr. Xi had back trouble emerged only because it was given by Chinese officials to the Clinton delegation, which passed it to American reporters. If Mr. Xi’s disappearance was political, one can only surmise that the lack of an announcement of a date for the congress means there is important unfinished business to be resolved. Beyond this lies the question of the viability of the system put in place with Hu Jintao’s ascent to the top in 2002 after being informally designated as a national leader by Deng Xiaoping a decade earlier. There is no popular consultation as the party machine comes up with an agreed leadership, which then rules for 10 years with policy debates kept behind the screen of official unity. [Ibid]
If Mr. Xi does become party secretary but is in bad health, his authority could be sapped, accentuating the consensus rule that has emerged under Mr. Hu and impedes strong policy making. If Mr. Xi was unable to complete his first term, there is no mechanism for a mid-course succession. That would present the prospect of a tussle between China’s increasingly fluid elite groups. [Ibid]
When faced with unexpected events with political characteristics, the reaction in Beijing is to batten down the hatches and hope the storm will pass. That may have worked in an earlier era but in the context of today, it demonstrates once more how ill-adapted the bureaucracy is to rule an increasingly complex country with a global role. The potential for instability or for a power vacuum at the top of the system raises the risks of uncertainty at a time when the economic challenges facing China need maximum policy cohesion and effective implementation. That is the price of secrecy in a rapidly evolving society, and in a world where it may be increasingly easy to circumvent barriers on information but where it is also increasingly difficult to know the truth. [Ibid]
Scramble for Power Before Xi Jinping's Absence
While Xi was still missing, Ian Johnson and Jonathan Ansfield wrote in the New York Times, With still no sign of China’s designated new leader, Xi Jinping... many insiders and well-connected analysts say the Chinese political ship is adrift, with factions jockeying to shape an impending Communist Party conclave. The most obvious sign of discord is that the dates for the congress have not been set. Most political experts here expected it to be held in mid-October, but without an official announcement, some are predicting it will be delayed. [Source: Ian Johnson and Jonathan Ansfield, New York Times, September 13, 2012
One reason for the delay, the experts say, is what now appears to have been a contentious meeting in early August at the seaside resort of Beidaihe, China. According to the official script, this was to have been the final big meeting before the congress of leaders from the party’s various factions: the military, big state enterprises, descendants of revolutionary families, leaders of critical Communist Party organizations and others. The details of the congress were to be finalized at Beidaihe and the dates announced later in August. Instead, according to information that is slowly leaking out, the Beidaihe meeting and other sessions beforehand in Beijing were especially tense. “The atmosphere was very bad, and the struggles were very intense,” said a political analyst with connections to the party’s nerve center, the General Office. Mr. Hu, who has been criticized as having been an overly cautious and ineffective leader during his decade in power, was also seen as defensive and gloomy. [Ibid]
A veteran party scholar who attended the Beidaihe meetings said the leaders only met over a couple of days and finalized a list of more than 2,000 delegates to the congress whose names were already public. A proposed list of new leaders was not circulated, however, and there was no deliberation of critical issues, like drafts of the political blueprints to be unveiled at the congress, he said. “We thought that these issues would be settled there,” he said, “but they weren’t.”
Given the absence of hard information from the government, it is possible that Mr. Xi’s absence has been caused by something other than illness. The veteran party scholar, who dined late last week with a close family member of Mr. Xi’s, said the relative told him he did not know Mr. Xi to be sick. The scholar maintained that Mr. Xi’s absence was more likely because of the unsettled political situation. “There is still a struggle; it is not finished,” he said. [Ibid]
Image Sources: China.org, Wikimedia Commons, White House
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated June 2015