Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, September 25, 2015

Who is Xi?

Not since Deng Xiaoping has the personality of a Chinese leader mattered as much as it does now. So, what matters?

What You Need To Know About China's Strongman President: President Xi Jinping is making a bid for personal power and national revival.
President Barack Obama… host[ed] one of the other serious contenders for most powerful person on Earth: President Xi Jinping of China… Just three years after taking the reins of power, Xi has already placed his stamp firmly on his country…

With Xi almost guaranteed another seven more years in power, Obama and his successor will both need to wrestle with China-U.S. relations in the age of Xi. Here’s what you need to know about him.

Xi Jinping
Xi has quickly emerged as maybe the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong. China’s previous leaders largely shunned the spotlight, portraying themselves as part of a group ruling by consensus. Xi has instead built a huge personal brand by employing strongman tactics at home and abroad.

In China, Xi has consolidated enormous personal power through a blistering crackdown on both corrupt officials and civil society activists. The prosecution of powerful officials (many who happen to be Xi’s political rivals) and the detention of civil rights lawyers… Some scholars argue that the twin crackdowns reveal Xi’s vision for China’s future: not a liberal, electoral democracy, but an efficient authoritarian state with a strong leader at the helm…

Those stances have built popularity and political capital that Xi may spend on broad-ranging economic and environmental reforms. In 2013 the Chinese leadership announced its intention to kick-start sputtering economic reforms, shrinking the role of the state by giving market forces a “decisive role” in the economy.

Those reforms are meant to power the Chinese economy through a tough transition: away from traditional sources of growth (cheap exports and heavy industry) and toward a new economy built on services, consumption and innovation…

Xi has branded his administration with the trademark phrases “the Chinese dream” and “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” That branding reinforces a narrative that the Chinese Communist Party has been preaching for decades: after a “century of humiliation” characterized by foreign invasion and domestic strife, China is finally returning to its rightful place of prominence in the world…

Taken together, Xi has attempted to build a public image as a strong leader devoted to the people. While there are few reliable gauges of public opinion, surveys and anecdotal evidence suggest Xi remains immensely popular at home.

But ahead lie enormous challenges for China as a whole and Xi in particular. Can he transform the Chinese economy without generating massive unemployment? Can he truly root out corruption while also quashing the sprouts of independent civil society? Can he crack down on official perks without provoking a mutiny within the Chinese Communist Party? Can China expand its influence abroad without driving other countries into the arms of the United States?…

[Matt Sheehan is the China Correspondent for The World Post. This opinion piece was publshed by The World Post, a partnership of The Huffington Post and Berggruen Institute]

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