President Xi Jinping is regarded as the most powerful leader of China since Deng Xiaoping, whose power, as opposed to his predecessors, is coupled with large-scale visions of home and foreign affairs, and not inconsiderable personal ambitions. Simultaneously with Xi assuming office, China has become the second major power of the world, and, as a result, the East Asian country more and more openly challenges the USA-dominated world order.
BIOGRAPHY AND EARLY POLITICAL CAREER OF XI JINPING
Xi Jinping (15th June, 1953, Fuping, Shaanxi province), may be classified as a “prince”, that is, the child of influential Communist parents, since his father, Xi Zhongxu was one of the founders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), later vice-premier and vice chairman of the National People’s Congress. Young Xi Jinping studied chemical engineering at Tsinghua University, and later took a degree in Marxist philosophy and ideological education. In 2002 he obtained a Doctor of Law (LLD) degree, covering fields of law, politics, management, and revolutionary history.
His political career started to rise in 1982 when he became the secretary of Geng Biao, Minister of National Defence of the time. In accordance with the practices of the CCP, he continued his career in the countryside, where he held local party posts, and, as it was expected, an office in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. In 1992 he became member of the Chinese Parliament, the National People’s Congress. He was the Secretary of Fujian from 1995, of Zhejiang from 2002 and of Shanghai from 2007. At the 17th congress of the CCP in October, 2007 he was appointed to China’s most important governing body, the Political Buro Standing Committee. He has been the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and Chairman of the Central Military Commission since 15th November, 2012, the 18th Party Congress, and the President of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) since 14th March, 2013.
The “China Dream“
In 2013, Xi announced the President’s quasi-official ideological programme, in the limelight of which there was the implementation of the “China dream” (zhongguo meng). According to the traditions of Chinese politics, all party leaders are supposed to announce it. Hu Jintao’s programme, for example, was the “scientific development outlook”, while Jiang Zemin’s was the “three represents”. There is not an exact definition of the “China dream”, but its approximate meaning may be summarised as the collective hope of China’s society for restoring China’s national greatness (fuxing), in which the citizens living in sustainable welfare are satisfied with their situation and are able to make their own dream come true in harmony with the community.
The collective Chinese dream consists of four parts:
- strong China: – economically, politically, diplomatically, scientifically, militarily;
- civilized China: – equity and fairness, rich culture, high morals;
- Harmonious China: – amity among social classes and segments;
- beautiful China: – healthy environment, low levels of pollution, attractive cities, innovative arts.
In order to achieve the goals, China has to resolve the tensions and problems accumulated during the last decades, such as the restructuring of the economy, alleviating social disparities, pollution, corruption. By addressing the problems, Xi thinks, the “two hundred-year dream” of the CCP to create a “moderately prosperous society” (xiaokang shehui) can be achieved by 2021, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party and China can be turned into a fully developed country by 2049, the 100th anniversary of the proclamation of the People’s Republic.
There are many ideas about the origins of the term “China dream”; it was definitely inspired by the American dream, especially in the light of Xi’s overseas trip. Journalists had used the term earlier and several books had been published under the same title, which might have affected Xi’s vision. The difference is, however, that while the American dream is of individual nature, its Chinese counterpart is collective and based on the unity of people. Not only the ethnic groups and classes of China must join forces in order to achieve it, but they have to be in strict accordance with the leadership of the CCP. President Xi’s reforms described below concerning internal affairs can be regarded as important elements of the “China dream”.
An early and recurring element of Xi Jinping’s internal policy is to continue the reform process commenced by the policy of “reform and opening-up”, which is mentioned by the Chinese press as the “Deepening Overall Reform (quanmian shenhua gaige)”. The programme provides for major reforms in the fields of economy, jurisdiction and politics. The economic element forms the most substantial part of the reforms. The market shall be the decisive factor in the operation of the economy. Consequently, the gradual reduction of the role of the state, the restructuring of state-owned companies (increasing their profitability and closing down the ones making the most loss) and, in order to create more intense competition, the greater involvement of the private sector as well as foreign companies within the Chinese economy have begun. China’s leadership is committed to the fiscal and tax reforms, in order to alleviate social injustices and promote a more efficient use of resources (for example, for innovation, R&D).
The reform of the jurisdiction aims at enhancing the rule by law (fazhi) in order to reduce corruption and the political intervention both on state and local level – for example, by setting up regional courts and supervisory authorities – and to increase constitutional surveillance. Xi urged to increase transparency in judicial proceedings, involvement of citizens in the legislative process and “professionalism” in jurisdiction. Xi believes the constitution, on the whole, should have a greater role in the operation of the state.
The reforms have affected politics as well: Xi calls for deepening the Chinese deliberative democracy, which is different from western democracy as the people exercise democratic decision-making in the form ensured by the CCP. The Chinese President’s strong commitment to reforms is well reflected by the fact that on his first trip to Beijing he went to Guangdong, where Deng Xiaoping established the first Special Economic Zone, and he called attention to the importance of the continuity of reforms on his famous “Southern Tour”. “Comprehensive and in-depth reforms include” combatting corruption. Xi announced an 8-point guideline in which he pledged to bring down both “tigers” and “flies”, which means CCP will hold not only low-ranking bureaucrats but also high-ranking members of the political, military and economic elite accountable.
Renewing China’s culture
In recent years, emphasising traditional Chinese culture has been given an increasingly prominent role in the life of the People’s Republic of China and the Communist Party. The ambivalent relationship is well reflected by the fact that under Mao Zedong the Party committed itself to modernism, and openly supported destroying China’s traditional values; under Xi Jinping, however, it seems obvious that China’s past appears as a kind of source of legitimacy, and its preservation has become an important task of the Party. Xi interprets the Opium Wars as the crunch point of the Chinese world, and only the CCP was able to overcome these problems, ensuring China’s continuity and the revival of the tradition.
The Chinese President thinks Confucian values provide a way out compared to the empty and overly material values of the Western world. Xi often quotes Confucius and other Chinese classics, and following the example of former emperors, he visited Qufu, Confucius’s place of birth in November, 2013. The President’s message is obvious: those who reject the CCP, also reject the traditional heritage of China. Xi, however, regards the preservation of China’s socialist heritage -together with its Chinese peculiarities – as well as the traditional culture important. The Chinese President emphasises the political principle of the Maoist mass line: the people are the drive which shapes world’s history, thus the task of the CCP is to represent the people. For Chinese leadership, these hybrid Confucian-socialist values may offer an alternative to western values.
A new type of peaceful rise: national interest vs peaceful rise
The Xi Jinping-era has brought about one of the most radical changes in Chinese foreign policy. The new direction puts an end to the foreign policy pursued by Deng Xiaoping, characterised by low-activit, the aim of which is to restore the major power status of the country in the least prominent manner possible and seemingly in full compliance with international regulations. Xi says China is still committed to peaceful development announced by Hu Jintao in 2005, but the power of the country enables it to make a stand more vigorously for defending national values. Among others, it means that China refuses to accept any conduct which conflicts with the national interest of the country or undermines its sovereignty, security or development interests (fazhan liyi). China’s development interests, however, also include protecting its interests abroad, which are becoming more and more important to the economy.
At the BOAO Forum in 2013, the Chinese President asserted: China does not intend to follow the peaceful path on its own but it also expects the external world to have regard to Chin’s interests and to contribute to the peaceful environment. Asian countries have to work on new solutions, a new order to promote cooperation and guarantee peace.
A “new type” of international relations
In his speech delivered in the Moscow State Institute of International Relations on 23th March, 2013, Xi Jinping called the attention of the audience to the fact that the world had changed and a “new type” of international relations should be established. In his speech, he argued for the following values: harmony, (peaceful) development, shared benefits, all of which together shall be the guiding principles in the relations between countries in the future. He also highlighted that China regarded the legal equality of countries, non-intervention in each other’s internal affairs and the rejection of hegemony important. He believes that instead of the problems of the past the countries should look at the future, and this way relations could work harmoniously. Greater and richer countries should assist smaller states, but fundamentally, each country should determine for itself the path of its own development. A greater and more powerful state may not dictate. When putting principles into practice, the emphasis should be placed on cooperation, which means stronger economic relations and getting to know each other as comprehensively as possible – by way of fellowships, exchange programmes, cultural agreements, etc.
Author: Viktor Eszterhai
Viktor Eszterhai is a senior analyst at the Pallas Athene Innovation and Geopolitical Foundation (PAIGEO). He completed his Ph.D. in History at Eötvös Loránd University in 2018. Between 2014 and 2015 he was a senior scholar at Tsinghua University, Department of International Relations and in 2017 he was visiting scholar at Fudan Development Institute. His research topics are the Chinese characteristics in foreign policy; China and Central and Eastern European relations; non-western international relations theory.