China’s Xi signals a new political style
C. Raja Mohan : Thu Nov 15 2012, 18:02 hrs
In his first address to China and the world, the new general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, Xi Jinping adopted a frank and practical tone that is likely to go down well at home and abroad.
Unlike his predecessor, Hu Jintao, who was wooden and formal in public settings, Xi, the son of a famous revolutionary communist, was quite at ease as he arrived at the Great Hall of People after his selection as the new General Secretary at the end of the 18th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party.
Xi introduced his six colleagues from the all-powerful seven member standing committee of the politburo of the CCP. He even offered an apology for starting late, quite unusual for China’s modern emperors.
Dressed in dark suits, the seven men are now perched at the very top of the political heap in China. They will be responsible for steering the ship of the party-state for the next five years.
Xi broke from custom to make a lengthy speech at the press conference. Read in translation, the speech seemed designed to convey a new political style and an eagerness to connect and communicate with the Chinese people and international audiences.
Xi avoided the usual jargon of communist party apparatchiks. The contrast with Hu’s speech ten years ago when he was installed at the top of the CCP, could not have been starker.
Unlike Hu who paid verbal obeisance to Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, and Deng Xiaoping theory, Xi shunned the old mantra and invoked no deities.
But there was no real softening of the message. Nor was there any promise of undeliverable political reforms.
Xi recalled the CCP’s contributions to the modernization of China and its continuing centrality in the building of socialism with Chinese characteristics. At the same time, Xi was frank enough to admit the problems facing the party and offer to make amends.
The CCP, Xi declared, “has rallied and led the people, it made great efforts and turned the poor and backward China into a new China, ever closer to the goal of national prosperity and strength.”
Arguing that the CCP can’t rest on its laurels, Xi pointed to the many challenges facing the party, especially graft and corruption, the growing isolation from the people and bureaucratism.
“Our responsibility is to work with all comrades in the party, to make sure the party supervises its own conduct and enforces strict discipline”, Xi said in an attempt to reassure Chinese people that the party will not be above the law. Whether he can deliver on the promise or not, he was pressing the right buttons.
To the rest of the world, Xi’s message was a simple one. “China needs to know more about the world; and the world also needs to know more about China”. He asked the international press to facilitate greater mutual understanding between China and the world.
Xi had no interest in projecting either victimhood or defiance of the world to please nationalists at home. He was underlining the fact that China needs the world to prosper and the world needs China to move forward. What better basis could there be for Beijing’s international engagement under a new leader?
(C. Raja Mohan is a Distinguished Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, Delhi and a Contributing Editor for The Indian Express.)