It seems Xi Jinping has assumed a fairly high degree of control, fairly quickly

Xi Jingping  will assume the title of President of China.

Questions:

1. Xi Jinping is the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China for some months. Is it possible to say that now he is in full control of the system or not, and why?

2. Was it anything related to Xi and his style of leadership what has surprised you during those months or Xi is basically fulfilling the expectations?

Answers:

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

1. While it is impossible to fully know how strong a Party General Secretary/President is at any given time, it does appear that Xi Jinping has assumed a fairly high degree of control, fairly quickly. Some observers say that he has a six to one concentration of power in the Politburo. His predecessor, Hu Jintao, always had to work in the shadow of a fairly strong and influential predecessor (Jiang Zemin). Xi Jinping (a Jiang protégé) is working in the far lighter shadow, if you will, of  Hu Jintao, who is a weaker figure than Jiang. In addition, of course, Xi has family connections from his father, a revolutionary hero, that he can draw upon to help consolidate his strength.

2. I think that so far, Xi Jinping is fulfilling expectations–he has made moves toward cracking down on corruption, which is a serious problem. There is also discussion of government reorganization. But at the same time, I see no reason to regard Xi Jinping as wanting to take China down the same path that Gorbachev took the Soviet Union–after all, for the Chinese Communist Party, the lesson of Gorbachev is that precipitous moves toward political reform lead to the collapse of the Communist Party regime and the disintegration of the country. For Chinese leaders, this is not an abstraction: it is a real fear. Thus far, Xi Jinping looks like someone who, like his predecessors, must struggle to both protect the Party and to protect and advance China’s national interests. So far, Chinese leaders of the post-Mao period, from Deng Xiaoping through the present have been able to do that through a combination of economic reforms, opening to the outside world, and carefully-calibrated crackdowns on corruption. If China reaches the point (for example, due to a serious economic slowdown) at which the leadership is unable to attend to the needs of both the Party and the country simultaneously, social and political instability could follow.

Clayton Dube, Associate Director of the USC U.S.-China Institute, University of Southern California

1. China’s party and state apparatus is enormous. It’s impossible to say that anyone today is in full control of it. This is one reason why corruption is such an intractable problem. But Xi Jinping has consolidated his authority. How firm his control is will be seen in how responsive the party and state are to his priorities. So far, the propaganda apparatus has responded well, but we will have to wait to see how rapidly and fully his agenda is implemented.

2. I think the Chinese leadership has worked hard to minimize big changes during such transitions, so I have not been surprised by Xi. He is more direct a speaker than his predecessor, but even this came out at times when he was still the heir apparent. He’s clearly a more colorful leader than Hu Jintao. It remains to be seen if he’ll be a more effective one or if he’ll pursue significantly different policies.

Kerry BrownExecutive Director, China Studies Centre, University of Sydney

1. I guess the most we can say is that Xi, quicker than any of his predecessors, has been given the full suite of power levers in modern China – party boss, chair of the military commission, and president. In that sense, he is very powerful. But the party he is the leader of and the country he leads are v v v complex so th idea he can rule by fiat a la Mao Zedong is wrong. He has great restrictions on what he can do. If he focuses and builds a coalition in the elite by consensus on particular issues, then yes, he is powerful. But if he wants to dictate, then no, he doesn’t have that power.

2. He is a more direct, better communicator than Hu, and he is certainly saying some  forceful things about corruption. But in the end, his deeds are the thing. Is he really intending to directly attack vested interest? We will have to wait and see.

David GoodmanProfessor of Chinese Politics, University of Sydney

1. It’s possible to say that Xi Jinping is the single most important figure in the leadership, and also that he has no serious challenge to that position for the immediate future. At the same time his power is not untrammeled. He is beholden to all the groups and interests in the leadership of the Party that have put him there. The President of the USA probably has more room for action, even given Congress and the interest group system in operation there, than Xi Jinping.

2. I have been a little surprised by the extent to which Xi has tried to be all things to all people. He makes noises to suggest to the old and new left that he supports their positions, as well as reassuring the liberals and those wanting more political reform. It’s a hard act to maintain, especially since to date he has only suggested old solutions to continuing problems.

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

1. Xi continues to consolidates power, but he is not in complete control yet.  For example, in the upcoming NPC/CPCC conferences, a few people not his choice may be promoted to major positions.  Overall, he is doing very well in taking control.  And I think he has established his reputation and authority among the public.

2. His leadership style is obviously different from that of Hu and Jiang.  Xi is from the grassroots.  He served as a village head when young and climbed up to the top step by step.  So he seems more people-friendly and people-focused.  He already introduced some reforms such as no extravagant banquet, no blocking the traffic when traveling.  So I think ordinary people like his style.  But people also hope that he will do more and take more steps to curb the corruption.

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