Xi Jinping - Knowing the man, his upbringing and politics

Nirendra Dev *

A lot of it is being written and rewritten today about China. Of course the principal focus as a protagonist in the entire geo-strategic and political theatre is Xi Jinping, President of China. It is, therefore, also crucial to take a closer look at the man and his journey - both political and personal.

Of course, China and its leadership has its own set of problems. The two potential new growth poles, as highlighted in several reports - the high technology and the consumer spending—are facing tough times. There are challenges on the domestic front as the economy is going through rough patches. Some statistics are lowest in the 27-28 years timespan.

Xi Jinping comes from a political background. His father Xi Zhongshun was a close associate of Chinese military commander Liu Zhidan. In 1962, Senior Xi was thrown into prison and his wife (Xi Jinping's mom) too was banished to a labour camp.

Xi Jinping, like many youngsters of his time, was asked to "denounce" his parents by those promoted to positions of responsibility.

In 2012, Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a Hong Kong-based scholar had written: "Xi is taking charge of the country at a particularly delicate time. China is having to adopt an alternative growth model whilst the government is struggling with powerful economic and regional feudalities".

Moreover, the infamous 'Bo Xilai affair or scandal' had surfaced in 2011. It showed certain "weaknesses" of the Chinese political system and the government as well. Corruption of the elites became a byword and so called deep-rooted ideological differences within the 'Party machine' also were exposed. The stability was shaken !

In the write up. Cabestan maintained, the Chinese Communist Party needs a leader who is both strong and courageous! More importantly, he posed a question: "Is Xi such a person?"

In short and in retrospective effect, one can say Xi Jinping came up the ladder hard way. It was only in 1997 - Xi's rise at the national level began to fructify. At the 15th CCP Congress, Xi was elected a member of the Central Committee. He was only 43!

Now, a question comes - given his background, cultural revolution in the 1970s and of course developments related to the 'Bo Xilai scandal' of 2011 - did Xi Jinping benefit out of these?

The answer is 'Yes' and to an extent it was not unnatural. He became a beneficiary and was seen as one of the leaders who would fit in the bill of China of 2011-12.

Moreover, in domestic Chinese politics, Xi was seen as a 'moderniser'. Those who followed Xi's career graph later on said - Xi Jinping struck Hu Jintao's political line and made a strong pitch for harmony between migrant workers and entrepreneurs and also sought for improvements in civic body level governance.

Such political protagonists like Xi Jinping have benefited in other countries as well. In the United States, it is strongly believed Ronald Reagan became the real beneficiary and "herald of a born again Americanism" of the politics over the Vietnam war and not the illustrious Jimmy Carter.

Thus, can we say Xi Jinping demonstrated true revivalism for his party and country in 2011-12?

This question can be answered in more ways than one!

Around 2017 - Xi Jinping's politics and foreign policy was seen as an activist posture and thus invited easy comparison to Donald Trump’s difficulties in accomplishing his own diplomatic agenda. Chinese media hailed Xi's stint as one known for pushing through “historic changes”. It was also observed that Beijing would give up a well known Chinese guiding principle of “avoiding brightness, cherishing obscurity” meaning a low-profile foreign policy.

Both Chinese media and the western experts were also overwhelmed by what was given out as the 'Xi Jinping Thought'.

The 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) convened between Oct 18 and 25 2017 was also widely interpreted as a manifestation of the personal power that Xi amassed since 2012 after only five years at the top post.

Certainly, some critique put him on a par with Deng Xiaoping or even Mao Zedong. Now comes 2020 challenges - Coronavirus and challenges from the US on trade front and also Hong Kong and Taiwan, Xi Jinping was perhaps left with fewer options than opening the conflict with India.

To an extent, the Indian strategic experts and other stakeholders should have anticipated some of the troubles we have experienced since Doklam in 2017 and also the LAC conflict. Xi needs trouble along borders - to fight the enemy 'outside' - so that his internal troubles are less in domestic politics.

But why did he have to 'discover' one such conflict with India? Only he can answer that best.

But it goes without stating that in the big list, China already has disputes with Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam in the South China Sea and also Taiwan. There are conflicts of interest in Spratly Islands (with Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan), Paracel Islands (Vietnam) and Scarborough Shoal (Philippines).

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called China a “rogue” for Beijing's policy towards neighbourhoods. Moreover, the US Navy has deployed its 300,000 tonne aircraft carriers to the Pacific Ocean on June 15. This is the first biggest deployment of US super-carriers - USS Ronald Reagan, USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS Nimitz.

'South China sea' bothers China as it is one of the world’s busiest maritime trade routes that serves as a passage for annual trade worth $ 3.5 trillion.

Can he handle all the problems at hands?

In his own words, Xi Jinping had said in 2012 - "Our responsibility is to unite and lead people of the entire party and of all ethnic groups around the country while accepting the baton of history and continuing to work for realising the great revival of the Chinese nation in order to let the Chinese nation stand more firmly and powerfully among all nations around the world and make a greater contribution to mankind". (source BBC)

It will be erroneous to underestimate Xi Jinping's intent and will power. His past background and upbringing have only made him a tough guy. These facts are vital both in Indian and also global contexts. In his own country and dealing with issues on the domestic front and also with party colleagues, Xi Jinping had somewhat tried to refashion party priorities.

He has advocated for increasing public awareness on the supremacy of the country's constitution and law. Xi has reminded time and again that no one or any organisation has the power to overstep law-based governance. This actually strengthens his hold politically. Xi had made a classic statement on this backdrop. "One must build a good cage. If the cage is too loose, or is very good but the door is not closed, and one is free to go in and out, then that is of no use".

This shows the mind of the man!

However, in the ultimate context of India's relationship with China vis-a-vis Galwan tussle, one is reminded of a quote from a Bengali play. My father-in-law Late Sushil Kumar Deb, a hardcore Marxist of his time in once upon a time Red forte Tripura - used to often say these lines.

The line of the play was of course penned obviously with a pro-Left liberal sentiment:
"Every war or struggle is for power; and the power can never do good to anybody".

* Nirendra Dev wrote this article for
The writer can be contacted at nirendev1(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on July 04 2020.

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