Xi’s confidence extends to China’s domestic politics. His generation is more certain of reform than previous leadership cohorts were, owing less to official ideology than to the country’s enormous achievements in the past three decades.
In practice, Xi may well prove to be a nationalist. Certainly, his generation, like the founding fathers of the People’s Republic of China, dreams of turning China into a stronger, more prosperous country. The country’s new leaders want the world’s applause, but they are more eager for domestic ovations.
Like previous Chinese leaders, Xi firmly believes that the world should respect China’s authority to manage its own affairs. Thus, he is willing to show diplomatic muscle if China is challenged on a core area of concern. His speech in Mexico in 2009 demonstrated this.
“Some foreigners with full bellies and nothing better to do engage in finger-pointing at us,” he said. “First, China does not export revolution; second, it does not export famine and poverty; and, third, it does not mess around with you. So what else is there to say?”
Xi understands that the world expects not only a better China, but also a China that is committed to constructing a better world. He will be a tough and strong-minded leader, but one who understands the world in a pragmatic way and knows how to work well with his foreign counterparts.
His visit to the US left two impressions: First, he is a leader at ease both in front of and away from the television cameras. Second, he is not afraid to have a little fun.
With those simple touches of humanity, Xi could bring a revolution to China’s diplomacy.
Zhu Feng is the deputy director of the Center for International & Strategic Studies at Peking University.
Copyright: Project Syndicate