Although harshly critical of Hu and the current state of the CCP, Sun seems to be speaking at least as much to his former student than to Xi’s predecessor. In fact, he seems to take an indirect swipe at Xi’s Chinese Dream when he criticizes the Hu administration’s post-Olympic “fantasy of a national system concentrating forces to do great things” while failing to solve everyday issues.
If Sun is directing his message at Xi he is urging him that drastic action is needed, and warning that token reforms—of the kind that Hu took early in his tenure— will not suffice.
As Bandurski rightly points out in the post, it is striking how similar the expectations for Hu during his first years in office are to the current speculation about Xi. In this sense the current speculation might be very much misplaced.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
One potential key difference between Hu and Xi, however, is their ability to reform the system. It’s unclear if reforms stalled under Hu due to his personal preference for the status-quo or rather because his attempts at reform were blocked by conservative and status-quo elements of the regime. At the very least Premier Wen Jiabao was a strong advocate of significant political and economic reforms but was seemingly unable to overcome resistance to them.
In this sense there are reasons to believe that Xi might be more successful. To begin with, his princeling background gives him significant connections and a degree of legitimacy that Hu (or Jiang Zemin for that matter) did not possess when first taking office.
Furthermore, Xi has already consolidated his power far more than Jiang or Hu had during this time in their tenure; for example, neither Jiang nor Hu took command of the Central Military Commission (CMC) at the same time that they became party chairman. Xi’s charisma gives him a greater ability to harness his bully pulpit in getting the Chinese people behind him and reform.
Finally, Xi is likely to find more allies should he seek to institute economic reforms. To begin with, most of the members of the Politburo Standing Committee are both Princelings like Xi as well as patrons of Jiang Zemin and Shanghai Clique, which was more proactive in adopting pro-growth economic reforms and bringing local authorities under greater central control. Furthermore, many of the key architects behind former Premier Zhu Rongji’s fight against State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) in the 1990s have been given important economic postings.
None of this is to suggest stronger reforms will be easy or even likely. But it does mean that if Xi is strongly committed to reforms of whatever sort, he does have a better chance of succeeding than did his predecessors.