The next would-be Chinese leader Xi Jinping has just made a four-nation diplomatic blitz with Australia as the final leg of his tour.
Xi’s trip to Australia embodied the essence of the Chinese Government’s foreign policies: striving for mutual benefit; win-win outcomes, and in-depth co-operation. What are in reality subtle Chinese diplomatic strategies and ploys have been tacitly accepted by the Australian Government.
Both the Rudd Labor government and the former Howard Coalition government have maintained a pragmatic business-like relationship with China. For Beijing, there is a no-go area of democracy, liberty, the rule of law and human rights where it doesn’t want western countries to trespass. Based on their needs for trade and considerations of national interest western countries, including Australia, have been mostly ready to go along with this special condition. Despite the great contrast between political systems, and concern in western countries about the lack of human rights, the West has mostly put aside disputes in a utilitarian manner.
In this way, the West has accepted the “win-win” rhetoric proposed by China. From Beijing’s point of view, the West is gradually being “harmonised” by Chinese policy. This is the reality the world is facing.
Let’s have a look at this possible future Chinese leader, Mr Xi Jinping. When it comes to talent and ability, Xi doesn’t appear to be near any of his predecessors, namely Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao.
Mao was an unscrupulous, audacious and capable leader, who defeated Chiang Kai Shek, conquered mainland China and imposed ruthless policies, causing the deaths of more than 70 million people.
Deng was able to make his political comeback after multiple dismissals and returns.
Jiang was an opportunist, winning the favour of the Party elders to become the succeeding leader.
Hu came from relative obscurity but he severely quelled the March 1989 Tibetan political unrest, showing his iron fist in a velvet glove, thus paving the way to his future presidency.
What is Xi’s main qualification to be heir apparent? It appears to be only his surname: he is the son of Xi Zhongxun, a liberal-minded Chinese communist veteran who staunchly supported economic reform in 1978 when he was Party chief of Guangdong province. Xi Zhongxun was an important local leader in China’s post-1978 economic reforms, and his enlightened thoughts arose from his previous experience of political persecution. Xi Zhongxun was meritorious in Chinese politics, which doubtlessly benefits his son Xi Jinping, positioning the latter to be a future political leader.
Both the Chinese authorities and the Chinese people have some sort of expectation for Xi Jinping. The official elite will have a sense of security if Xi takes over. Should a person of such a background gain power, the possibility of him betraying the official orthodoxy appears to be low. Meanwhile ordinary Chinese people are not hostile to Xi, not because of his political record so far, but due to his father’s liberal-minded attitudes and good reputation. But in the end, the expectations of ordinary Chinese are irrelevant, as they have no right to have their voice heard on the issue of leadership succession. That matter is decided by Chinese political elites behind closed doors.
When visiting South America in February 2009, Xi Jinping delivered an impromptu speech which is summarised as follows. “Some foreigners, who are well-fed but have nothing to do, try to find faults in our domestic affairs. Firstly, China does not export revolution; secondly, China does not export hunger and poverty; Thirdly, China does not torment you. What else have you got to say?”
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