Even when Chinese Communist Party leaders chose Xi as leader in 2012, they believed he could be easily controlled, said Andrew J. Nathan, a professor of political science at Columbia University and an authority on Chinese politics and the foreign policy.
“They saw him as kind of a malleable, loyal guy who would treat them like elders in the right way and not rock the boat,” Nathan said. “He has surprised us with his ferocious control obsessed mentality of taking over everything and purging a lot of people and consolidating power.”
Xi revealed his more authoritarian side shortly after taking power. In a speech in December 2012he dismissed democracy as dangerous and argued that China needed to do whatever it took to avoid a fate like the collapse of the Soviet Union following the end of its one-party communist system in 1989.
“Why did the Soviet Union disintegrate? Why did the Soviet Communist Party collapse? Xi asked. “Proportionally, the Soviet Communist Party had more members than we did, but no one was man enough to stand up and resist.”
Now Xi is on the cusp of another decade as David Shambaugh, an expert on Chinese elite politics, said, called a “modern emperor.” The Party Congress, which begins on Sunday and will continue through the week, is a largely scheduled event that is expected to result in a resounding endorsement of the current Xi government.
the The emperor’s plans include remaking the global order in a way that serves China and its authoritarian system.
“The Chinese people will never allow any foreign force to intimidate, oppress or subjugate us,” Xi said last year. in a speech implicitly addressed to the US.. “Anyone who tries to do so will find themselves on a collision course with a great wall of steel forged by more than 1.4 billion Chinese.”
Xi has been able to act boldly thanks to personal relationships with top military officials and by devoting enormous resources to building high-tech weaponry increasingly rivaling that of the US, and in his first term as supreme leader, was able to crush rivals without alienating a critical mass of powerful senior CCP officials and their families through a highly selective choice of targets.
Foreign diplomats who have observed Xi in person credit his petty political savvy as the key to his success. “He has the full set of political skills: he knows how to play a room, he knows how to play on people’s emotions,” said Kerry Brown, a former first secretary at the British embassy in Beijing, now director of the Lau China Institute at King’s College, London. “That combination is more than adequate to explain exactly why she is where she is.”
That skill set reflects Xi’s childhood at the heart of the Chinese Communist Party’s political elite as the son of former Vice Premier Xi Zhongxun. Mao Zedong’s move to purge the elder Xi in 1962 inflicted 16 years of torment on the family that taught Xi Jinping invaluable lessons on how to navigate the piranha pool of CCP power politics.
Xi “really knows politics very well in part because he grew up in [the CCP leadership compound] Zhongnanhai until age 13,” said Cheng Li, director of the John L. Thornton Center for China at the Brookings Institution. “He has a great sense of timing, and he knows when to move and when not to move.”
For example, Xi’s 2013 launch of the Belt and Road Initiative — through which China has invested billions in highways, power plants and high-speed rail across the developing world — has delivered diplomatic victories for Beijing. Twenty of the 29 countries that voted against or abstained from a US-backed resolution to discuss the human rights situation in Xinjiang last week were beneficiaries of the Belt and Road Initiative.
Xi began climbing the rungs of the CCP’s power structure in the late 1970s, after a period of seven years as one of the millions of urban youth what maosent” to the countryside as part of a mass revolutionary “reeducation” project. Among From 1979 to 2007, he held positions ranging from office secretary of the General Office of the Council of StateActing Governor of Fujian and Zhejiang Provinces and Secretary of the CPC Shanghai Municipal Committee.
Xi’s tenure in those posts was undistinguished. Instead of undertaking significant initiatives, Xi’s record suggests that he went under the radar and focused on both avoiding scandal and offending any potential CCP power brokers.
“He always played second fiddle, gave credit to people around him and never took credit for himself,” said Dimitar Gueorguiev, an associate professor of political science at Syracuse University.
That approach caught the attention of former President Jiang Zemin and former Vice President Zeng Qinghong. Jiang and Zeng saw Xi as a successor to President Hu Jintao who would serve the interests of the CCP’s old guard while addressing systemic problems, including rampant corruption. That paved the way for Xi to rise to the powerful roles of general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, chairman of the Central Military Commission, and the more ceremonial role of president.
Xi kicked off the long-awaited anti-corruption crusade, jailing high-profile would-be opponents on corruption charges that same year. Xi then replaced imprisoned or retired senior party officials with loyalists to build a formidable power base.
At the same time, he began to create a new personality: that of a strong and ruthless man whose anointed role is usher in prosperity at home and superpower status Foreign.
Xi claims he has purged China of the “intense humiliation” from past foreign domination and achieved “complete victory” over extreme poverty. Xi has strengthened that image with a cult of personality linked to slogan initiatives including “chinese dream” Y “national rejuvenation.” Xi’s manifesto, the Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era has entered the pantheon of the CCP’s ideological orientation along with treaties of Mao Zedong’s predecessors, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. But Xi has outdone them all by reviewing the history of the CCP to give himself an outsized credit that heightens the importance of his leadership, second only to that of Mao. Y textbooks on Xi Jinping’s political philosophy have been required reading for Chinese schoolchildren since last year.
Meanwhile, Xi’s foreign policy has become increasingly aggressive. She has harshly rebuffed foreign critics of China’s human rights recordis draconian National Security Law in Hong Kong and intensifying saber rattling in taiwan. He has invoked a“wolf warrior” diplomacy and built a military machine designed to support his ambition to Chinese superpower status.
While Xi surprised his rivals in the CCP, some in the US administration saw it coming. A confidential cable sent from the US embassy in Beijing to the United States Department of State on November 16, 2009 and thereafter published by Wikileaks laid bare Xi’s ambition.
“According to a well-connected embassy contact, Politburo Standing Committee member and Vice President Xi Jinping is ‘exceptionally ambitious,’ confident and focused, and has had an ‘eye on the prize’ since adulthood,” the cable said. . “Xi is supremely pragmatic and realistic, driven not by ideology but by a combination of ambition and ‘self-protection’.”
Now that Xi is all but assured of the crown for as long as he wants it, there are some within the party who worry that he has given up too much power.
Members of the hong’er dai—descendants of China’s political elites born in the 1960s and 1970s—are concerned about Xi’s masterful grip on the CCP’s power structure. Many worry about Xi’s cultivation of a personality cult reminiscent of Mao Zedong — which helped fuel the chaos and violence of the 1966-1976 cultural revolution.
“There’s a lot of unhappiness at reasonably high levels of the party,” said Joseph Fewsmith, a professor of international relations and political science at Boston University.
But those hoping to influence Xi to take softer stances, whether inside China or abroad, are likely to have a hard time.
“There is this siege mentality from Xi Jinping that says: ‘I need to be strong [and] strengthen the country because China has been abused,’” said Nathan, a professor at Columbia University. “He doesn’t trust the middle class, he doesn’t trust businessmen, he doesn’t trust careerists from his own political party and he doesn’t trust people who advise him that the United States would be willing to live together. [with China].”