|Xi (pronounced"shee") Jinping|
Vice President Xi's visit to the United States next week will enhance his aura of readiness to lead China from late this year. It could also set the mood for the next decade that he is likely to serve as president, an era when Sino-U.S. relations face deep and potentially troublesome shifts. The Communist "princeling" is fond of small town America and Hollywood war dramas, is a brusque critic of Western pressure and has a daughter at Harvard. Chinese leader-in-waiting Xi (pronounced"shee") Jinping embodies his nation's contradictory ties with the United States.
Both sides want Xi's visit to encourage longer-term cooperation between the world's two biggest economies, not immediate breakthroughs. He appears curious to understand the ways of Washington (good luck, we don't even understand that) and woo audiences outside the U.S. capital. In China's one-party state, Xi need not worry about winning the vote of citizens, but he looks eager to try to win over American voters worried about China's strength and intentions. His planned stop in Iowa, where he stayed briefly with a family in the small town of Muscatine in 1985, will reinforce that theme.
"In all likelihood, he's going to be running China for the next 10 years and it will be the first impression he gives to the (U.S.) public at large prior to his assuming the presidency," said Stephen Orlins, president of the National Committee on United States-China Relations.
But the Chinese leader-in-waiting, aware of scrutiny at home, will want to avoid looking unduly keen to please the White House. Xi and his U.S. hosts have many strains to deal with: bilateral disputes on trade and human rights, and policy disagreements over North Korea, Iran and most recently Syria, over which China blocked a U.N. resolution.
Fleshy and slightly stooped, the 58-year-old Xi is the son of late, reformist vice premier Xi Zhongxun, making him one of the privileged "princelings": the sons and daughters of revolutionary leaders who rose under Mao Zedong. Unlike past Chinese presidents who grew up in the provinces, Xi speaks the clear, standard Mandarin Chinese that is a mark of growing up in Beijing -- in his case in a guarded compound.
But Xi also experienced the tumult of Mao's era after his father was purged in 1962, when Mao turned against long-time comrades out of the belief that they threatened the purity of his revolution. Like many urban youths, the younger Xi was sent to work in the countryside during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), where he rose to become a commune official. He later studied chemical engineering at Tsinghua University in Beijing, an elite school where President Hu also studied. Xi gained a doctorate in Marxist theory from Tsinghua.
"He is a self-confident leader," said Orlins, the president of the National Committee on United States-China Relations. "In China, coming from that kind of background, you tend to have more self-confidence and that exhibits itself in dealing with foreigners, as well as Chinese," said Orlins.
Xi's "red" background has prompted some observers to speculate he could take a tougher stance against Washington, which would reflect growing nationalist sentiment in China. On a trip overseas in 2009, Xi bristled at the international demands piling up at Beijing's door. "Some foreigners with full bellies and nothing better to do engage in finger-pointing at us," he said, in comments that spread on China's Internet and drew applause from many readers.
But recently, he stressed Beijing's desire for steady relations and sought to set an amicable tone for his visit.
"Sino-U.S. relations stand at a new historic starting point, and both sides must take a long-term perspective and demonstrate political courage and decisiveness to overcome obstacles that have long stood in the way of Sino-U.S. strategic mutual trust and impeded deeper cooperation," he told a meeting in Beijing. "China and the United States have every reason and ample room to develop cooperation and partnership."
In August, Xi hosted U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on a visit that gave Washington policymakers a chance to size up the president-in-waiting. Biden described Xi as "totally engaging," saying he was "open about the nature and the extent of their problems, what they're going to have to deal with, short-term and long-term."
At a 2007 dinner with the U.S. ambassador to Beijing, Xi mentioned his affection for Hollywood films, including World War II stories such as "Saving Private Ryan," according to U.S. diplomatic cables made public by WikiLeaks. "Hollywood makes those moves well, and such Hollywood movies are grand and truthful," the notes on the meeting paraphrased Xi as saying. "Americans have a clear outlook on values and clearly demarcate between good and evil," Xi said. "In American movies, good usually prevails."
Xi coming to power could be a good sign for US-Chinese relations, but never forget that he is a descendant of the hard core Maoist teachings. In dealing with him I think it would be wise to be cordial and as cooperative as possible -but keep the ammunition locker unlatched....
Live Long and Prosper...