Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平), who is expected to take over as the top leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) this autumn, recently concluded a visit to the US, during which he held talks with US President Barack Obama. Xi’s visit has brought him to the world’s attention, just as was the case when then-Chinese vice president Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) was welcomed to Washington by then-US president George W. Bush in 2002.
Today, just like 10 years ago, the US and China have both used the diplomatic occasion to play a game of give-and-take according to their respective interests. The US leaders wanted to get on good terms with their new counterpart, while Xi wanted to use his performance to prove his ability in handling international affairs. The visit is also a sign that the rules of the game for US-China relations over the next decade are gradually taking shape.
Who is this Xi? That is the question being asked not only in the US, as it welcomed China’s incoming leader in the midst of a recession, but also by people around the world and from all walks of life. Although plenty of research is being done about Xi’s personality and way of thinking, it is still hard to find much in the way of true and accurate analysis.
Just as Xi was visiting the US, the Washington Post and ABC television network published a joint survey on the US public’s opinions about China. The survey found that 52 percent of respondents did not like China, while 37 percent said they liked it. The proportion of respondents who said they did not like China rose by 3 percent compared with 49 percent at the time of Hu’s visit to the US last year, while those who said they liked China dropped by 5 percent from last year’s 42 percent. This is an indication of the growing unease that Americans feel about China’s burgeoning economic and military power.
China is a fierce competitor for other countries, but they also have to cooperate with it. That being the case, knowing whether China is going to change when Xi takes over is not just very important for the US, but even more imperative for Taiwan as it does its best to maintain its existence within the international framework.
Western commentators’ observations about Xi focus largely on the following aspects.
First, that he is the son of Xi Zhongxun (習仲勛), a key figure among the communist leaders who established the People’s Republic of China. In other words, the younger Xi is one of the so-called “princelings.” His father fell victim to political criticism and struggle on more than one occasion, but was later rehabilitated. These experiences have led to the elder Xi being categorized as a relatively enlightened reformer, and people wonder whether he has had any great influence on his son’s political beliefs.
Second, observers note that US Vice President Joe Biden met Xi during his visit to China’s Sichuan Province in August last year. The message some people in US political circles got from that meeting is that Xi seems to be a bit different from Hu, with a more cosmopolitan and amiable style. Observers ask whether this will open up new possibilities for interactions in US-China relations. Similar questions are being asked in Taiwan. Since Xi once served in a leading post in China’s Fujian Province, which lies just across the Taiwan Strait, he has had dealings with many Taiwanese businesspeople and cultural figures. That being the case, some people think that Xi must have a better understanding of Taiwan than his predecessors, and hope that Taiwan will come under less pressure from China as a result.