The imminent state visit of China’s President Xi Jinping is of keen interest to the Filipino people.
First: As the leader of China, Xi Jinping will play a crucial role in preventing or igniting a war that can jeopardize peace among nations, both in Southeast Asia and worldwide.
Second: The escalating trade war between China and the United States is an active fuse that could ignite an armed confrontation. In swapping unrealistic tariffs on each other’s exports, Xi and US President Donald Trump are wreaking havoc—not only within their own economies, but also on the economies of many other countries.
Third: China’s increasing incursions into the West Philippine Sea and the South China Sea and its refusal to honor the Hague decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in favor of the Philippines is an affront on the integrity and independence of the Filipino nation. This has generated dismay and disapproval among the Philippines’ ASEAN neighbors and other nations.
Fourth: The Duterte administration can now secure the loan accommodations it needs to finance its massive infrastructure program on less onerous and stringent terms.
Fifth: The increasing social, political and economic power and influence of Filipinos of Chinese ancestry in the country must be considered. Some quarters look favorably upon the idea of making the Philippines a surrogate of China like Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore.
Sixth: The visit indicates that Xi considers President Duterte a reliable ally. This diminishes, if not negates, the importance of Sison and the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) as China’s alternative to the incumbent dispensation.
Seventh: President Duterte’s pivot to China may not only be wise, it is realistic.
POWER CENTER, GROWTH
Time Magazine and Forbes now consider Xi Jinping as the most powerful person in the world, dislodging Russia’s Vladimir Putin who, for five years, enjoyed that distinction. China is now perceived as more powerful than the United States in terms of economic influence. It is on the verge of becoming the richest nation on earth. It may be recalled that the United States now owes China trillions of dollars.
China-watchers have attributed Xi’s rise to power to what they describe as his political acumen; his quiet, yet steely and unflinching courage and; his strong sense of direction and determination.
Xi is now the President of the world’s most populous nation at the age of 65, after hurdling formidable obstacles.
He was born on June 15, 1953, the second son of Xi Shongxon—a former vice premier and vice chairman of the National People’s Congress.
In 1963, Xi’s father was purged from the party and sent to work in a factory in Henan. Five years later, the elder Xi was imprisoned during the Cultural Revolution, according to Charles Edoard Boueé’s book “Management Revolution: Spirit, Land Energy” (2010, Palgrave Macmillan). This interrupted the younger Xi’s studies and his mother was forced to denounce him publicly as an enemy of the revolution. Various news outlets and biographies of the Chinese President published reports online that student militants had ransacked the Xi home during the Cultural Revolution and that this ransacking resulted in the death of his sister, Xi Heping.
According to a report in the Toronto Star headlined “China’s political star Xi Jinping is a study in contrasts” by Barbara Demick and David Pierson, Xi Jinping was sent to work in a village in Yanchuan County, though he ran away to Beijing after a few months and was arrested in the capital as a deserter from the province. The same report said he was sent to a work camp where he was made to dig ditches.
Various news reports carrying Xi’s biography documented his rise through the ranks of government in China. He had worked to earn the trust of his superiors and was eventually appointed party branch manager of the production team.
In 1975, Xi enrolled at Beijing’s Tsinghua University where he studied chemical engineering. After college, Xi worked with some high-ranking Chinese government officials who had once been subordinates and good friends of his father, earning their endorsement for appointments to more important and higher positions within the party.
According to a Feb. 12, 2012 article by the Daily Mail website describing Xi’s visit to the US as China’s Vice President, he had first visited Muscatine, Iowa in 1985 as a “young Communist Party leader seeking ideas to help his agriculture-rich region of northern China,” a trip Xi remembered fondly and which made a lasting impression on him.
Xi became a member of the Communist Youth League in 1971. He also made nine attempts to apply for membership in the Communist Party and succeeded on his 10th try in 1974.
In 1997, Xi became alternate member of the 15th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.
He was appointed vice governor of Fujian, his home province, in 1999. Xi was appointed governor of the province a year later and served as governor of Fujian’s neighboring provinces after he completed a successful campaign against corruption in his own province.
As governor, Xi reportedly sacked local officials charged with corruption in Zhejiang, drawing the attention of high-level government officials. When Shanghai’s party chief, Chen Liangyu, was dismissed in 2006 over his involvement in a social security fund scandal, Xi was appointed in Chen’s place.
Xi studied Marxist philosophy and ideology and took on-the-job post-graduate studies at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Tsinghua University, where he obtained a Doctor of Laws degree, covering the fields of law, politics, management and revolutionary history.
He was appointed to the nine-man Standing Politburo Committee of the Communist Party of China at the 17th Party Congress in October 2007 and ranked above Li Kequiang, a strong indicator that he would most likely succeed former Chinese President Hu Jintao. Xi’s position as was strengthened when he was elected Vice President of the People’s Republic of China at the People’s National Congress in March, 2008.
Xi was put in charge of the preparations for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, and made overseer of Hong Kong and Macau affairs. He was also appointed president of the Communist Party of China’s ideological and cadre-training wing, the Central Party School.
His hands also held the reins of the preparations for the 60th anniversary of the founding of the PROC as head of Communist Party’s Committee 6521 Project, the job of which was to ensure stability during the anniversary celebrations, according to a March 9, 2009 report by Michael Wines for the New York Times headlined “China’s Leaders See a Calendar full of Anniversaries and Trouble”.
Various news reports documented Xi’s official visits to several countries as China’s Vice President, trips that enabled Xi to hone his skills in diplomacy and gain insights into the political and economic developments in other countries.
The New Yorker reported that Xi disappeared from public view and shunned media exposure in September of 2012, in an article headlined “Born Red: How Xi Jinping, an unremarkable provincial administrator, became China’s most authoritarian leader since Mao” by Evan Osnos, who also wrote in that report that “[i]n dozens of conversations this winter, scholars, officials, journalists, and executives told me that they suspect he did have a health problem, and also reasons to exploit it. They speculate that Xi, in effect, went on strike; he wanted to install key allies, and remove opponents, before taking power, but Party elders ordered him to wait.”
Xi was elected general secretary of the Communist Patty and chairman of the CPC Central Military Commission on Nov. 15, 2012.
He created, and made himself head of, the National Security Commission, the Comprehensively Deepening Reforms Commission, the Central Financial and Economic Affairs Commission and the Central Foreign Affairs Commission. He set guidelines for rooting out corruption and abuse in public office and fired high officials and members of the politburo who were known to be abusive and corrupt and filed lawsuits against over 100 of these officials.
He also reduced the number of members in the Politburo Standing Committee from nine to seven. Xi and Premier Li Kequiang were the only holdovers from the previous committee.
With complete control of both the management and decision-making institutions and vital agencies of the government, Xi became the undisputed leader at the top of China’s political ladder once he was elected President on March 14, 2013, receiving 2,953 votes with one vote against and three abstentions.
Xi succeeded Hu Jintao, who served for two five-year terms. In March this year, the National People’s Congress passed a series of constitutional amendments, including the removal of the term limits for president and vice president. In September 2017, the Communist Party Central Committee decided that Xi’s political philosophies, dubbed by media as “Xi Jinping’s Thoughts,” be included as part of their constitution. “Mao Zedong Thoughts” and “Deng Xiaoping’s Theories” were previously incorporated into the Chinese communist party’s constitution.
GEOPOLITICAL TESTING GROUND
The geopolitical arena is now the testing ground for Xi’s leadership. How he will handle the trade war with the United States will test his sagacity and brilliance in the negotiating table. How Xi will treat or threaten nations who are unable to pay their debts to China will reveal his real intentions.
Xi is perceived as cool, calculating, pragmatic and fiercely single-minded and focused.
Lee Kuan Yew once described Xi as “a thoughtful man who has gone through many trials and tribulations.” He’d likened Xi to South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, and was quoted in news reports as saying Xi is a person “with enormous emotional stability who does not allow his misfortunes or sufferings affect his judgment.”
Australia’s Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, said Xi “has sufficient reformist, party and military background to be very much his own man.”
It is reasonable to surmise that Xi may have acquired deep insights into the characters of his contemporaries during his visits to other countries, as well as a broad understanding of the workings of the governments of the countries he has visited.
Trump, Putin, and other world leaders will have to watch Xi more closely and study the serious implications of his statements and decisions
Based on these reports about Xi’s actions throughout his political career, the Chinese President appears as more political than military, more cooperative than combative, and more principled than cunning.
In a speech in May, 2007, at the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, Xi said: “We should foster a new type of international relations featuring win-win cooperation, a partnership of dialogue with no confrontation, and a partnership of friendship rather than alliance.”
“All countries should respect each other’s sovereignty, dignity and territorial integrity, respect each other’s development path, and its social systems, and respect each other’s core interests and major concerns,” Xi said in the same speech. “What we hope to create is a family of harmonious existence.”
Yet, in dealings on security issues and foreign affairs, Xi appears to have taken a hardline stance projecting a more nationalistic and assertive China on the world stage. He also been seen as having a good hand in problem-solving.
Xi appears to be a serious, cautious, hard-working, pragmatic, lowkey and down-to-earth. He appears to be seemingly uninterested in the trappings of high office.
Yet, in his personal life, Xi consistently showed an ambitious disposition. He married the daughter of an ambassador to the United Kingdom in the early 1980s. That marriage ended in divorce. He re-married, his second wife being a celebrity who was already a household name before they met in 1987. They have a daughter who studied at Harvard University.
As his reputation and international stature has become the focus of media attention, Xi has also become surrounded by a cult of personality. The places and institutions where he spent some of his most memorable years are now attracting tourists eager for information about China’s incumbent President. In fact, photos of Xi and one of his companions, sans security escorts, dining with ordinary folk at a small restaurant where he paid for his meal and quietly left, have gone viral over social media.
It looks as if Xi Jinping has acquired all the credentials and the attributes for greatness. It will be interesting to see how he makes use of this deep well of political capital he has built. G