Xi Jinping vs Hu Jintao

Xinhua: CPC congress concludes, new central committee elected.

Question:

1. If we compare Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping do you expect some visible changes in leadership’s style or not, and why, or the visible changes are virtually impossible if we look at the composition of the regime and how the regime works?

2. Why Xi Jinping as a new Chinese leader? What was his biggest asset in your opinion?

Answers:

Zhiqun ZhuAssociate Professor of Political Science and International Relations, Bucknell University

1. Xi and Hu are different in their personality–Xi seems more easy-going and relaxed, Hu seems very formal and rigid. However, whether their leadership style will be different or not is another story.  My view is that it will be similar.  What Xi can do is limited.  China follows collective leadership now.  Xi will not be a strong man like Mao or Deng.  He will be just chief among equals.  The CCP also has various factions.  Xi will have to try not to offend any of these factions.

2. Xi was selected because he was acceptable to all factions, and he has all the credentials to be the top leader.  China is ruled by elites now.  Xi is the son of a revolutionary.  He worked in the countryside during the Cultural Revolution.  He began to accumulate political experience from the grass-roots.  Then he went to college, and later served as provincial leader in Fujian, Zhejiang and Shanghai before being promoted to Beijing.  So he is fully experienced, which is his greatest strength.

 Jianwei Wang, Professor of Political Science, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point

1. They have very different personal styles. In comparison, Hu is more cautious and low-file, Xi is more confident and bolder. In comparison Xi is more charismatic and at ease in dealing with people. Probably one will see some stylistic change in the long run, but not immediately. After all China now has collective leadership rather than one-man dictatorship. Hu and XI’s differences come from their personality as well as from their family ground. Hu is from a more humble background, but Xi is the so-called “princeling.”

2. There was a straw voting among the party elites and Xi seemed to be more popular than Li Keqiang. In terms of personality, he seems to be more likable. XI also benefited greatly from his father who is a senior leader of the first generalization of the Chinese communist party. His father Xi Zhongxun enjoyed very good reputation among the ranks and files of the first and second generations of CCP leaders. He is well known for his open-mindedness for reform and well respected for his personal integrity. In addition, Xi, partially because of his family background, got support of elderly retired Chinese leaders such as Jianh Zemin.

Harold TannerProfessor of Chinese History, Department of History, University of North Texas

1. It appears that Xi Jinping is rather different from HU Jintao in terms of style. Hu is more reserved, whereas Xi Jinping is described as confident and outgoing, someone who will adapt easily to the role of leader. So the style of leadership will certainly change. But it is much harder to say how the substance of leadership will change. Xi Jinping has risen up the ladder of the Party bureaucracy by serving competently in a range of positions, while playing his cards close to his chest and not revealing much at all in public about his principles, ideals, convictions, long-term goals, or thinking on controversial issues of national or international importance. He spent a good deal of his childhood in a remote village (to which his family had been banished during the Cultural Revolution). One of his early posts was in a rural county near Beijing in the early 1980s where he introduced and implemented the economic reforms that were then just starting out under Deng Xiaoping’s leadership. This and some of his policies in later positions (including an interest in environmental protection when governor of Fujian province and alleged private meetings with advocates of further economic and political reforms) give the impression that Xi is a pragmatist, and also possibly interested in further economic or perhaps even political reform. On the other hand, he is also associated with strongly nationalistic, social Darwinist thinking and has spoken out strongly on the issue of the Diaoyutai/Senkaku islands, which are at the center of an ongoing territorial dispute with Japan.

I must emphasize that anything that can be said about how Xi might govern is speculation. You ask why Xi is to be the next leader, and what his biggest asset is. But because the process by which the Chinese Communist PArty chooses its leaders is so opaque, none of us on the outside (Chinese or foreign) really know why Xi is to be the next leader: all we know is that for some combination of reasons, the factional politics of the time has operated in such a way as to make him the choice. His greatest asset may be that he has managed his career and personal connections in such a way as to make it possible that he would emerge as the chosen leader.I think it is worth emphasizing that this is not a process like a fight to the finish between a number of strong-men, in which the last one standing has vanquished all the others and emerges triumphant. It is more like a complex multi-party bargain which leads to a consensus that Xi is to be the next leader, but in which all the concerned parties still remain viable and more or less influential. This has significant consequences for the way in which Xi will govern, and the extent to which he will be able to formulate and, even more importantly, to implement any policy changes. Xi will need to make powerful alliances, putting together coalitions of various individuals and their factions in order to do anything other than maintain the status quo. This will not be easy. Rumors of factional struggle over the leadership transition abound, and China (ironically, like the United States) now has a many powerful vested interests who may use their economic and political power to resist any reforms that they see as running counter to their interests. For example, large state-owned companies, People’s Liberation Army commanders, local officials, and the government bureaucracy itself all have reason to resist economic or political reform, and they all have both the economic and the political resources to make that resistance very effective. In addition, Xi will have to work in the shadows of not one, but two former presidents and their factions (Jiang Zemin and Hu JIntao).

Xi Jinping will face many serious challenges in the next few years: a possible economic downturn, contentious trade relations with the United States, territorial disputes in the East China and South China seas, and mounting cynicism about the Party and its leadership. How he deals with those will depend very largely on his ability to make effective alliances within the highly complex, fractured world of China’s economic, political and military elites. It will be interesting to see how well he rises to this challenge. Right now, it is impossible to tell.

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One Response

  1. […] Summit has been identified as an opportunity for China’s charismatic new president to further distinguish himself from Hu Jintao, his rigidly formal predecessor. In 2009, Hu hosted Obama at a Beijing summit that starkly […]

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