Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Pen Portrait of a President-- Xi Jinping of China

         In a few days time the Chinese President Xi Jinping will be in India attending the BRICS summit at Goa. It would be his second visit to India and it goes without saying that he would be having comprehensive talks with PM Modi; where it is expected that issues that have bedeviled Sino-Indian relations in the recent past would form the prime agenda. Not many in India are familiar with his persona, nor indeed what have been his achievements; since he took over as the Chinese leader from President Hu Jintao in 2012.
     President Xi born in Beijing in 1953 is the third of the four children of Xi Zhongxun, a hallowed revolutionary leader who was with Mao Zedung during the revolutionary period. After the People's Republic was formed in 1949, the elder Xi served in various capacities, including as a Minister for Propaganda and as a Vice- Premier in the Chinese government. He was purged during the Cultural Revolution and had a harrowing time along with his family members. Xi Jinping too did not escape the horrors of the time; having to spend time in a rural community doing manual labor and sleeping on a kang; a traditional Chinese bed made of clay and bricks.With his revolutionary pedigree intact, Xi is often referred to in China as belonging to a group identified as the "Red Princelings" [Children of past revolutionary leaders who are in power today].
     President Xi Jinping is tall for a Chinese leader, nearly 6 feet with his dark black hair neatly pomaded; thereby indicating that he is a northerner. When I met him in Beijing, Xi speaks with a rich baritone and has a confident heft. Xi was married twice. His first wife was Ke Xiaoming, the daughter of the then Chinese Ambassador to UK. They divorced. Xi is now married to the well known soprano singer, Peng Liyuan with whom he has a daughter, Xi Mingze and who has graduated from Harvard University in the US. Peng is considered as a person of considerable elegance, having featured on Vanity Fair's Best Dressed List. Unlike in the past, Xi and Peng often appear together and are considered China's first couple.
     Although China is ruled by the 7 Standing Committee Members of the Politburo, clearly Xi is way above them all. He is not only the President of China ,but holds ten different titles. Almost all important Committee's are headed by him. It is said that after Mao, he is the most powerful Chinese leader to emerge. Xi's great ambition is the rejuvenation of China into a strong economic and military power. It is said that he often emphasizes that 'never again will China be bullied' and that the century of humiliation is over. It is not that he is unaware of the dangers that lurk, for as he told the Politburo members "the tasks that our party faces in reform, development and stability are more onerous than ever before and the conflicts, dangers and challenges are more numerous than ever before".
    Above all else, Xi prizes stability in China. It is for this reason that there has been a crackdown on corruption, environmental pollution, unrest in Xinjiang and pressures imposed by a slowing economy. Xi has strengthened internal security, muzzled the press, re-organized the PLA to fight modern informational wars to win and accepted that economic reforms are necessary. His advocacy of the 'One Road, One Belt' [OBOR] concept and the birth of AIIB and BRICS Banks are all designed to promote China economic and strategic interests. Xi knows how to leverage Chinese economic power in the pursuit of its interests.
    Xi knows that there is only one country that impacts China as none other does--the US. Therefore his foreign policy initiatives are designed to seek accommodation with the US, if possible, through the concept of 'new great power' relationships. Nevertheless, in line with its new policy of promoting nationalism, China will not give an inch where it comes to its 'core interests'. A case in point is the  South China Sea [SCS] dispute, where slowly but surely, China under Xi has proceeded to change the ground realities to its advantage.
    Popularly known in China as "Big Uncle Xi" [Xi Dada], he is known to be direct in his dealings and to say what he thinks. He is not afraid of criticism, but as he himself admitted 'I am not going to lose my appetite over it." On a recent visit to China, I asked one of his staff members what did the President do for relaxation? I was told that the President liked to watch soccer games, but that he hardly had any free time. His great ambition was to see the Chinese football team win the World Cup! Have you noticed in recent times how much effort is being put into making Chinese football teams playing in the home league system world class?     

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