Just Who is Xi Jinping?
Image Credit: U.S. Department of Defense (Flickr)

Just Who is Xi Jinping?


It is hard to know what a politician really thinks. Even in a country like the United States, which likes to bombard its electorate with an endless stream of campaign ads, when you scrape off their polished veneers, peel back the layers from their stump speeches, turn off their mics, and get right down to it, one would be hard pressed to find too many people who actually know what a politician thinks and feels. Sure people may claim to have deep insight into Candidate X or Candidate Y – the former schoolmates, teachers, employers, and drinking buddies like to come out of the woodwork to pontificate – but at the end of the day, it is hard to know what really makes the man or woman tick.

Multiply this phenomenon by a hundred or a thousand.

Now you are probably at the starting point when it comes to what we really know about the “would be” next generation leaders in China. In fact, aside from Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, it is hard to say with absolute certainty who will even be handed the reins of power in the upcoming 18th Party Congress.

Granted, few should be surprised by this – opacity and obfuscation seem, at times, to be part of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) DNA. Lest we forget, it was just last month that the entire world played a collective game of “Where in the World is Xi Jinping” because the heir apparent cancelled a string of meetings (including one with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) and disappeared from the public eye. Should it then come as any surprise that we aren’t entirely clear about his policy leanings?

Yet understanding this does little to alleviate the frustration and sheer exhaustion felt by many a China-watcher who has undoubtedly been asked, on multiple occasions, to provide his or her opinion on “Just who is Xi Jinping?”

So what do we, as China-watchers, do? First, we try to draw conclusions based on what occurred in the leader’s past. This certainly has its merits. Not only does it provide some insight into how people like Xi might react in certain situations, but it also helps us begin to construct a map of potential patronage ties and factional allegiances. In China it is not just who you know, but how you know them.

For example, many believe that because Xi was the secretary to Defense Minister Geng Biao, he might have closer ties to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) than his predecessor, Hu Jintao. This could be important for a variety of reasons because the paramount leader’s relationship with the PLA can ultimately determine to what extent he can rely on the PLA to support policy initiatives, as well as the degree to which the military could exert leverage over the leader and influence the administration. But of course, the past is not a mirror to the future.

Nalliah Thayabharan
November 8, 2012 at 13:39

Xi Jinping is expected to replace Hu Jintao. Hu Jintao’s supporters were out-voted when they tried to keep Xi Jinping out of succession at meetings 5 years ago. But Hu Jintao may promote vice-premier Li Keqiang at the last minute. Currently Li Keqiang is expected to replace Premier Wen Jiabao, who is tainted by corruption following his family amassed $2.7 billion in the past 10 years. Still, ousting Xi Jinping may not be necessary because as Premier Li Keqiang could remain Hu Jintao’s man in the palace.
 Xi Jinping, groomed as Hu Jintao’s successor for almost 5 years, suddenly disappeared from public  2 months ago for more than a month. That was strange for a person found on front pages almost daily, including a high profile visit to the US last February. During his absence, Xi Jinping did not attend an important session of China’s Military Commission of which he is the Vice-Chairman and Hu Jintao is the Chairman. If Xi Jinping's recent disappearance was caused by poor health rather than political infighting, making him the leader could become a problem because Xi Jinping may not survive his 10-year term. Xi Jinping’s supporters were clashed with Hu Jintao’s group earlier this year because Hu Jintao wants to continue as China’s Military Commission Chairman for another 2 years. There is precedent for that as Deng Xiaoping also continued as China’s Military  Commission Chairman for 2 years after handing over China’s reins to Hu Jintao.  Xi Jinping’s supporters want him to have full control of the military and the civilian Politburo immediately after accession. They do not want Hu Jintao breathing down on them for another few years.
Xi Jinping favors entrepreneurial and capitalist-style business but is also close to the military. If Xi Jinping's ascension results in a slant towards the military, US President Obama may have new problems on his hands as China would assert more power in its neighborhood, causing erosion of US leadership there. With foreign reserves of more than $3 trillion, China already has more money than the US to buy influence with foreign leaders.
China is not hostile to the West but its leaders have urgent need for their own survival to boost the economy and improve social equity for their people. That boost will inevitably confer more wealth and power to China, which will eventually make many in the West very nervous.

November 1, 2012 at 09:13

@John Chan
France did not commit any crimes against humanity in libya, actually there were very few civilian casualties in the removal of gaddafi, only his tanks, soldiers, artillery etc… were bombed. This was for the good of the libyan people as now they are not ruled by a puppet dictator of the fascist russians and commie chinese. I think you are just upset because China got kicked out of libya, a true foreign policy blunder and very shameful losing billions of dollars.
China needs to learn that just because it does not have its own sphere of influence, doesnt mean it can try and go into other nations sphere of influence. If they think they can compete with the west in terms of realpolitik, then they are in for more foreign policy blunders across the whole globe.
Also only a few select French had been working with nazi's most french were fighting nazi's and killing them in WWII. At least france never let millions of its people die by starvation so that it could try and play geopolitical games with the west, what a shame a country could let millions of its citizens die and live in filth so that its 1% could get rich by selling toxic, counterfeit goods around the world.

October 31, 2012 at 13:33

"In the coming weeks, analysts around the globe will make their predictions regarding China's presumed next leader. The task won't be easy."
I think it will be easy. Xi will continue the policies of Hu Jintao. There won't be major policy changes at all.
That is my prediction. Easy.

John Chan
October 31, 2012 at 07:40

That was most horrendous imperialist and racist gibberish I have ever read on this site. No wonder French served Nazi willingly in the WWII, and they never punished those French Nazi collaborators, because they are the same.
French sphere of influence? It seems you are still living in the 19th century, the era of colonial suppression. Have you ever heard of the purposes of the WWII? It was a war to bring liberty, equality and justice to mankind, and to throw out those corrupted and morally bankrupted European colonial powers like the France and the British. International Court of Justice must indict French for committing war crime against humanity, because the French bombed and killed Libya into total destruction not for protecting human rights, but for protecting its sphere of influence.
France never has the capability to teach China a lesson even during the inept Qing time; they only could blackmail China by riding on the British coattail. Before France can deal Britain, Germany and their Muslim population, please stop talking about teaching anybody a lesson outside of its own border.

October 31, 2012 at 06:13

Don't blame other people for all your faults.  It's just childish & irresponsible. Without the Most-Favored-Nation status granted to China by the US, then China today is still just a poor  third world  country. Here are some Chinese  'fair' trade practices you need to know : IP thefts (i.e. 90% of softwares used by Chinese Gov't agencies are pirate ones); currency manipulation; export subsidies &  import restrictions etc. Just to name  a few. Stuck in the middle-income trap & the current faltering exports, China will find its darkest days ahead. Good luck, China!

John Chan
October 31, 2012 at 03:26

@Shen liang,
Nobody is saying there are no crimes and problems in China; the dispute here is whether laws and rules are applied fairly on China. You cannot justify your unfound allegation using rules only tailor-made for China. You and the western media must apply the same rules they used back home to criticize China. Rules apply to others do not apply to oneself is hypocrisy which is the root of all ills of mankind. The way you and the West criticizing China is hypocrisy.
There is no狼法in China, it is only the application of the laws is questionable, that’s is preciously the same crime you are committing, ignoring rules and laws, and prosecuting without due process. Due process is the fundamental difference between democracy and authoritarian, even though democracy does not guarantee liberty, freedom and justice.
If the gossip about Wen’s Mom’s wealth proves to be true, then you can raise issues regarding Wen’s Mom’s wealth and let the truth runs its course, before that you cannot smear Wen’s integrity, it is called due process, that’s how the democracy is implemented in the West. The same rule applies to Xi and everybody else too in the eyes of law.
Perhaps the parking lot guy gets roughed up unfairly, but he also could extort fees for the parking lot he has no jurisdiction, or pocket the fees without handing over to the owner, because he has the same twisted “ends justify means” mindset like you, taking laws into your own hand as you see fit.
If you are so critical to China then you should also apply same cynicism to NYT’s broadcast, otherwise you are bias, brainwashed by the western imperialism and a willing propagandist for the neocons, and you have lost your credibility as a worthy critics of China.

October 31, 2012 at 02:20

Wow. Wouldn't that imply that Americans in the others states ALL live in caves then? With no source of heat but their bonfires and lamps?

October 31, 2012 at 02:03

Why does China act like a cry baby bully always bringing up the past, the opium wars, WWII etc… can China not let the past go and try to be a good member of the international community? Why does china try to use the past to start new problems? Last time I checked Germany during the 1920's had also blamed past wars in order for it to justify using brutality and genocide in WWII, I think China might be the new problem in the world today, not the west.
@ John Chan I see you had nothing to say in my responses on the vietnam and African articles. Seems very typical for you, spout out baseless CCP propaganda and when someone responds with proper logic and reason you run away to another article and spout more propaganda and lies.
I think China should be contained very harshly by the international community if they continue being aggressive and cry baby's about the past 80+ years ago. Hopefully France will join forces with those countries to contain China.

Shen liang
October 31, 2012 at 00:52

"saying Wen and Xi’s extended families’ wealth is equivalent to Wen and Xi’s personal wealth is laughable and vicious personal attack."
Right.  Of course Wen's mom, with no history of business acumen, suddenly earned $120,000,000 after she was retired.  Through talent. And Wen knew nothing about it. 
"If your and NYT try to do what you do to Xi and Wen to any of 1%, celebrities, and politicians in the West, both of you will be sued until you are financially ruined if not landed in jail."
Great! I'm sure Wen will pursue his lawsuit then. Let's hear more threats, deepen these investigations and see how bad Wen is at bluffing. 
"In fact the people like you is the biggest obstacle for China moving to democracy and 法治away from 人治"
Really, John? Let's admit that with kleptocrats like these, China is obviously now under 狼法.
"hence disregarding and disrespecting laws is the only way works in China from top to bottom, from the ruling class to the clerk in hospital to the guy watching the parking lot."
Glad you are aware of just how bad it is, John.  The only problem is the "ruling class" gets away with it while the guy in the parking lot gets beaten up by real thugs. You, of course, spend your time defending this state of affairs.

John Chan
October 30, 2012 at 23:54

The USA and the West are in the business of imperialism, greed and serving self-interests; they are not in the business of charity.
The current hostility shown by the USA and its lackeys towards China proves they never have China’s wellbeing in heart; Mitt Romney even promised to punish China as currency manipulator while the USA is using China’s money to pay its government expenses, so please don’t claim credit where it is not due.

Be Way
October 30, 2012 at 23:39

"Without the US & the West , how could China rise"
How do you explain China being one of the greatest economic powers from the past many centuries until 19th century when it was the Western Imperialist and militant Japan that destroyed China in the first place.
The rise of China is NOT due to the West but more of a case of the hardwork, resourceful and initiative of the Chinese people.

John Chan
October 30, 2012 at 23:31

Only authoritarian and tyrant insist they have the truth, because they don’t want people to tell them they are ugly. You are insisting you and the West have the truth proves you and the West are authoritarian, tyrant and ugly.
You should read the evidence posted on this site first about the shameless West claiming undeserved glories in WWII before regurgitating those staled fabrication and fallacies like Tiananmen Square Massacre.   
Presumed guilty is a practice of Kangaroo Court; it seems you do not know one of the pillars of modern democracy that is one presumed innocent until proven guilty. It again proves you are authoritarian and a tyrant to the core.

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