With the recent election, the relatively brief period of assumed responsibility of the United States of America as the world’s hyperpower has been firmly shorn by the voting public. Confirming a “lead from behind” strategy of global diplomatic consolidation with other fading powers, the U.S. will becoming progressively reactive to the burgeoning influence of the world’s new dominant economic force, China, and the time is therefore apropo to look closely at China and its conceptualizations about leadership. Unlike America, which has leaned progressively on societal security with the alignment of its resources toward that goal, China has been single minded on the conversion of its national energy to growth and prosperity. The United States will spend the next ten years looking inward as the financial wherewithal for investing in expansion will be limited by the constraints of an ever burgeoning debt owed to others. China’s challenge will be making the shift from the world’s secondary to primary influence in a peaceful fashion respected by its neighbors and competitors, and secure the equality of prosperity at home. This coming week will see the elevation of Xi Jinping to the Presidency of China, succeeding Hu Jintao. This culmination of career through the difficult and secretive politics of the Chinese Communist Party to the position of ultimate leadership in China, makes Xi Jinping a worthy addition to Ramparts – People We Should Know.
The Chinese Communist Party for the past 30 years since the death of Mao Zedong and the elevation of Deng Xiaoping has been all about preservation of the party while unleashing of economic potential. This has resulted in leaders with a certain pedigree and Xi Jinping fits the mold precisely. Xi has the critical family pedigree. His father was one of the mythical leaders of the initial Communist victory over Nationalist forces, and then just as crucially, was discarded by Mao for his “reactionary” flaws in the 1960’s Cultural Revolution, for the crime of suggesting small market reforms in the face of the horrific forced starvation of millions of Chinese by Mao’s catastrophic edicts to preserve his version of the revolution. Xi therefore started his life in the dangerous world of being a member of an enemy family to the Revolutionary Guard, and his survival was at times a matter of luck. With the progressive weakening by Mao by aged infirmity and collapse of the Chinese economy, small windows of opportunity were seized by rejected “reformers” and Xi began to be cultivated like a potentially star athlete for eventual leadership. Xi was educated at China’s most prestigious university in the hard science of chemical engineering, then sent through a series of developmental resume building projects, including a stint in military organization and period of overseas exposure in agricultural management, spending time with a family in Muscatine, Iowa. He returned to begin the climb through a series of provincial Party positions, becoming governor in the vital eastern provinces of Fujian and Zhejiang, where China’s economic miracle was exploding and the critical questions of the relationship of Communist Party dominance and free market activities were under continual fulmination.
In 2007, Xi was elevated to China’s ultimate administrative leadership structure, the nine person Politburo, as First Secretary, a direct line to the ultimate leadership position. From this position he ran the highly successful Beijing 2008 Olympics, China’s coming out party, and crafted a reputation for having an open ear to reforming China’s inevitable inbred corruption problem , fused to the monolithic party structure. Critically, it appears he became the favorite of China’s kingmaker, former President Jiang Zemin, while not alienating the current leader, Hu Jintao, an impressive high wire performance.
This week, Xi will assume the Presidency of China, at the zenith of China’s thirty year history of progressive ascendancy. Although Chinese leadership selection process is cloaked in byzantine processes, murky vetting, and unknown strains, Xi is reported to be a modern conceptualizer. He is comfortable on the world stage, personally open and confident, and seemingly concerned with addressing Chinese internal issues before they become structural dangers to the leadership. In a crucial window into the thought process that lead to the elevation of Xi, the exiting President Hu Jintao provided a valuable clue as to the internal problems, declaring the Party’s incestuous corruption is the single greatest risk to the survival of the Chinese Party’s continuing survival and China’s ability to navigate its ascendancy to the primary economic force in the world.
Make no mistake, Zi Jinping is carved of the same stone as each of his preceding Presidents. He is a stalwart of the Chinese Communist Party and will cotton to no weakness in Party dominance in Chinese society. Unlike the American President, he will be laser focused on Chinese national self interest as the one and only determinant in policy, and though he may show a welcoming personality, the concept of American politicians that it is important for America to be liked in the world in order to be respected, is completely foreign to him and all Chinese leaders. China will continue to make its decisions on relations, economy, trade, environment, energy, Taiwan, and ultimately military security questions based on what is best for China.
As the Chinese and American destiny ships cross in the night, you can be sure that Xi Jinping will quietly but confidently ask the American ship to yield right of way.