China Power

WikiLeaks on Xi Jinping

Some unpublished cables from WikiLeaks offer interesting insights into China’s likely next president.

Anyone wanting to know a little more about Xi Jinping, the presumed successor to Chinese President Hu Jintao, should take a look at a couple of new articles.

The first, a special report by Reuters, takes a look at some previously unreleased material from WikiLeaks. It’s unclear where exactly Reuters obtained the cables, with the article only stating that they came from a ‘third party.’ Wherever they’re from, though, they offer a fascinating look at the man who is set to lead China from next year.

Xi is apparently painted by US officials as an elitist ‘who believes that the offspring of Maoist revolutionaries are the rightful rulers of China.’ On the question of human rights, the cables apparently have little to say on Xi’s views, but they do note that his father was critical of the crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protesters and also that the Dalai Lama apparently had ‘great affection’ for Xi’s father.

Amusingly, a supposed teenage friend of Xi’s said he was of ‘only average intelligence,’ and that women thought he was boring. ‘He could not discuss movies and did not drink,’ the friend reportedly said. ‘While taciturn and hard to read, Xi could be outwardly friendly and was thought of as a "good guy" who knew the answers to everyone's questions and always took care of people.’

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More pertinent for US foreign policymakers, though, will be the insights into Xi’s views of the United States. Here, the view is mixed. He is said to have stated during a September 2007 meeting with then Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg that the United States and China are ‘not competitors but rather partners in cooperation.’ And he’s also said to be fond of US war movies, which he said reflect the clear outlook Americans have on values, as they ‘clearly demarcate between good and evil.’  

He also reportedly criticized some Chinese film directors for neglecting ‘values they should promote.’ The key for Sino-US ties will of course be whether Xi has any sympathy for some of these ‘values’ being promoted by the United States, or whether he’s more interested in the act of promotion itself, which would of course have quite different implications.

There’s also mention of Xi’s now notorious (and not very diplomatic) outburst during his trip to Mexico a couple of years ago, when he complained to some overseas Chinese that: ‘There are some well-fed foreigners with nothing to do, who point to China and make unnecessary accusations.’ It’s not hard to imagine who he had in mind…

Separately, there’s also an interesting piece in the New York Times, which includes a visit to a cave that Xi was said to be housed in after being sent to undertake hard labour about four decades ago. The report notes of the village:

‘Liangjiahe is the foundation of a by-the-bootstraps creation myth that Mr. Xi has long cultivated. In an essay for a 2003 book Mr. Xi said his seven years here led to a life transformation. Using standard Marxist-Leninist-Maoist language, he wrote about learning to serve the people.

‘We “mustn’t stand high above the masses nor consider the masses as our fish and meat,” he said. He went on: “The hard life of the grass roots can cultivate one’s will. With that kind of experience, whatever difficulties I would encounter in the future, I am fully charged with courage to take on any challenge, to believe in the impossible and to conquer obstacles without panic.”’