Mar-a-Lago Summit Overshadowed by Syria Strikes

Xi Jinping
President Xi Jinping of China attends the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 17 (WEF/Valeriano Di Domenico)

The recent summit between Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping was unprecedented in its fashion and noteworthy in several respects.

Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida was an unusual venue for the first meeting between the two most powerful men on the planet. Barack Obama’s summits with the Chinese president were more formal.

The summit was expected to shed light on the policies of both leaders toward various smoldering issues: North Korea, Taiwan, territorial disputes in the South China Sea and Sino-American trade relations. Read more “Mar-a-Lago Summit Overshadowed by Syria Strikes”

World Upside Down: China Defends Globalization from America

President Xi Jinping of China attends the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 17
President Xi Jinping of China attends the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 17 (WEF/Valeriano Di Domenico)

Chinese president Xi Jinping defended globalization in an address to the World Economic Forum on Tuesday, likening the world’s interconnectedness to a “big ocean that you cannot escape from.”

Xi didn’t mention Donald Trump, but his speech sounded like a warning to the incoming American president.

“Pursuing protectionism is just like locking one’s self in a dark room,” Xi said: “Wind and rain might be kept outside but so are light and air.” Read more “World Upside Down: China Defends Globalization from America”

Political Dynasties and Their Discontents

Members of the Bush family watch a sports game at the White House in Washington DC, June 3, 2001
Members of the Bush family watch a sports game at the White House in Washington DC, June 3, 2001 (George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum)

Political dynasties have always been a big part of human civilization and today is no exception.

In the United States, of course, the rise of Donald Trump (and Bernie Sanders) was at least partially a reaction to the dynastic, Clinton-versus-Bush election that only last year most Americans were expecting to get.

Among other things, Jeb Bush’s candidacy split the non-evangelical portion of the Republican establishment in two, preventing it from coalescing around Marco Rubio early on and thus leaving an opening for Trump to force his way into. Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, meanwhile, may even leave the door open for Trump to become president, however unlikely and unappealing that may be. Read more “Political Dynasties and Their Discontents”

Xi Seen Distancing China from North Korea

Xi Jinping Barack Obama
Presidents Xi Jinping of China and Barack Obama of the United States speak at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, California, June 8, 2013 (White House/Pete Souza)

Visiting South Korea on Thursday, China’s president, Xi Jinping, appeared to distance himself from his country’s longtime communist ally North Korea, telling his South Korean counterpart, Park Geun-hye, that China took an “impartial” view to situation on the peninsula.

According to Chinese state media, Xi said, “All parties concerned should jointly and properly manage and control the situation, avoid causing tension, prevent the situation from losing control and creating no more stirs.”

He added that China believes “all sides should be treated in a balanced way,” suggesting a shift away from Chinese support for the North Korean regime which just a day before Xi’s visit launched two rockets off its east coast in a show of force. Read more “Xi Seen Distancing China from North Korea”

China’s Xi, American Secretary Discuss Currency, Korea

China’s new paramount leader Xi Jinping met with American treasury secretary Jack Lew in Beijing on Tuesday in what was his first meeting with a foreign official since being formally named president last week.

According to American officials, the two men discussed the major issues between their countries: the state of the global economy, China’s currency, cyber hacking, intellectual property rights and North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. It was the highest level meeting between American and Chinese officials since Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta visited Beijing in September.

Lew was reportedly “candid and direct” on North Korea. The United States want China to enforce tougher sanctions enacted by the United Nations Security Council after the country conducted a nuclear test in February. There is doubt about China’s commitment in following through. Because China is North Korea’s main ally, it has historically been reticent of pushing too hard on the regime for strategic reasons and a fear that should the government in Pyongyang collapse, a flow of refugees will seek shelter in China and destabilize the border region. Read more “China’s Xi, American Secretary Discuss Currency, Korea”

Xi Says Graft Threatens Communist Party Rule

A guard in the Forbidden City of Beijing, China, April 16, 2009
A guard in the Forbidden City of Beijing, China, April 16, 2009 (Shreyans Bhansali)

China’s new leader, Xi Jinping, warned on Sunday that abuse of power and corruption within the ruling Communist Party undermines public trust in the government and could ultimately imperil its single party rule. If he is to seriously reduce graft, however, Xi may end up eroding the party’s grip on power by himself.

Xi, who is expected to take over the reins of state power from outgoing president Hu Jintao at this month’s annual full session of parliament, said in a speech, “Only if the capabilities of all party members unceasingly continue to strengthen can the goal of ‘two one hundred years’ and the dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people be realized.”

“Two one hundred years” refers to both the party’s and the People’s Republic of China’s centennial in 2021.

A scandal rocked China last year ahead of the leadership transition when Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai was ousted. Bo’s top lieutenant and police chief had reportedly revealed details of a British businessman’s death and subsequent cover-up to the United States Consulate in Chengdu, an incident that somehow involved Bo’s wife.

The details of Bo’s purge and the events that preceded it remain unclear but may have been politically motivated as he championed a more leftist and populist economic and social policy that defied the liberal consensus in Beijing.

The majority of Chinese leaders who were elevated to the Politburo Standing Committee, the country’s highest decisionmaking body, in November, including Xi, were seen as protégés of former president Jiang Zemin’s who oversaw gradual economic reforms as paramount leader in the 1990s.

The World Bank warned China last year that it should enact even deeper reforms if it is to avoid falling into a “middle income trap” after decades of rapid economic expansion. While China’s growth rate still far exceeds those of industrialized nations, it slowed to a thirteen year low in 2012.

China pumped $635 billion in its economy at the height of the international financial crisis in 2008 in an attempt to sustain growth, a stimulus package thrice the size of the United States’ relative to its gross domestic product. Late last year, it announced another $150 billion worth of infrastructure spending.

Such stimulus measures may inflate growth in the short term but also encourage nepotism. Money is poured into politically favored industries that therefore have little incentive to improve their competitiveness relative to foreign competitors.

Nor have they significantly lifted internal demand which China’s leaders recognize must increase as it threatens to lose its cheap labor advantage to other Asian nations and won’t be able to rely on exports alone for growth in the near future.

A further slowdown in economic expansion could undermine the Communist Party’s monopoly on power. China’s burgeoning middle class has largely accepted the lack of political freedoms while the economy was booming. Yet for China’s leaders to maintain high growth rates, they may have to relax their grip on power.

The main impediment to economic development in years to come is the state’s heavy hand in industry. Behemoth state-owned enterprises, central planning, a weak judiciary, insufficient protection of private property and intellectual copyrights stand in the way of a freer market economy which the party seems unable to decide if it really wants.

The most efficient way for Xi to simultaneously improve the accountability of Chinese politicians and the country’s long-term economic growth prospects is further liberalization, including privatizations, but that is a political, not to mention ideological, challenge that could take him years to mount.

China’s Hu Ensures Smooth Transition, Resigns Army Post

President Hu Jintao broke with precedent on Wednesday when he simultaneously relinquished the leadership of the Central Military Commission and Chinese Communist Party in favor of his successor, Xi Jinping.

While Xi was widely expected to be named general secretary of the ruling party during its Eighteenth National Congress in Beijing, it was unclear whether he would also immediately take Hu’s place on the Central Military Commission, the body that controls the army. Hu could have waited until March of next year to hand over the post, when Xi is set to become president and will then be head of army, party and state, or even longer, as his own predecessor, Jiang Zemin, did. Read more “China’s Hu Ensures Smooth Transition, Resigns Army Post”

New Leaders, Old Policy as Chinese Ruling Party Convenes

On Thursday, 270 delegates of the Chinese Communist Party will gather in Beijing for the Eighteenth Party Congress where the next generation of China’s leaders will take office. The whole process will be concealed from domestic and international observers and in all likelihood the most difficult decisions were made behind closed doors months earlier. In fact, the incoming president, Xi Jinping, and premier, Li Keqiang, were probably chosen years ago.

This opaque process and the heavily censored personal histories of the new leaders have left China watchers and other governments wondering what foreign policies China’s next generation of leaders will pursue. They should look for answers in China’s past practice.

China adopted a more pragmatic foreign policy after beginning its reform and opening policies in 1978. No longer would ideology play the determining role. Instead, multilateral relations would be driven by recognition of the complexity of the international system and would seek to create a stable environment for China to develop its domestic economy. Read more “New Leaders, Old Policy as Chinese Ruling Party Convenes”

China’s Next Leaders Likely to Continue Slow Reform

Two days after Americans elect their next president in November, the Chinese Communist Party Congress convenes in Beijing to appoint the members of its Politburo Standing Committee, the country’s highest decisionmaking body.

Although it isn’t certain yet whether the committee will again include nine or seven members instead, the two top slots are reserved for incumbent vice president Xi Jinping and his deputy Li Keqiang. Both already sit on the Standing Committee and are slated to succeed President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao respectively.

Xi will also likely be named party general secretary and, if previous successions are any indication, take over as chairman of the Central Military Commission from Hu Jintao if he relinquishes the post, probably next year.

Xi is a protégé of former president Jiang Zemin’s and considered an advocate of economic reform although he has also shown support for state-owned enterprises. Read more “China’s Next Leaders Likely to Continue Slow Reform”

Is This China’s Next President?

After a four-day convention of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee on Monday, Xi Jinping, already the sixth most powerful member of the Politburo, was named vice chairman of the Central Military Commission; a position that is considered a steppingstone for assuming the highest office. Current President Hu Jintao was awarded the same post in 1999, three years before he became general secretary of the party. Four months after that, Hu was elected president.

The upper echelons of China’s political leadership are a maze of different party and state positions with top members typically occupying several posts in both camps. Xi, for instance, also sits on the party’s Central Secretariat and is President of the Central Party School which trains Communist Party bureaucrats.

Shifts in Chinese leadership are defined in generations. The ruling fourth generation of leadership has been in power since 2003. President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao are its most prominent members. Both were trained as engineers and rose through the ranks in China’s hinterland. Their generation is regarded as less centralized and more populist in its approach to government than its predecessors with Hu the pragmatic technocrat, defending China’s peaceful rise abroad and Wen publicly championing democratization at home. As his second term is due to expire in a little over two years however it seems doubtful that Wen will be able to make significant progress in this regard yet.

This latest generation, with allies in the Foreign Ministry and business, has occasionally clashed with hardliners in the military and Communist Party schools who still suspect that the West is conniving to deceive China and keep it poor.

Although principal of China’s most prestigious of party schools, Xi is nonetheless an outward looking official who supported Hu’s rise through the ranks and his administration’s policies of economic liberalization. As governor, he promoted private-sector growth in the provinces while styling himself as tough on corruption. Like all of China’s leaders, Xi believes that his country must continue to grow lest inequalities wreck social unrest or upheaval.

China’s mounting public discontent, particularly in the urbanized east, doesn’t so much stem from the gap between rich and poor however. Rather China’s growing middle class is cautiously demanding political freedoms now that they have tasted economic success. Narrowing regional disparities has been one of the cornerstones of Premier Wen’s policies but the greatest threat to China’s peaceful rise comes from the already developed regions. Where Xi stands in this debate is anything but certain and he is unlikely to articulate his views in the years ahead, at least not before he is elected president.

With Xi comes a fifth generation of Chinese leadership that is likely to continue market reforms to attract international trade and investment. Unlike the last generation, the country’s future leaders have mostly been trained as managers and in finance. Some have been active as businessmen before ascending to high positions in the party. Whether Xi, as president, will also tolerate political reforms, possibly at the cost of the Communist Party’s supremacy, remains to be seen.