Cha: Getting to know the real Xi Jinping
Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (center) inspects the honor guard February 14, 2012 outside the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia.
February 15th, 2012
03:09 PM ET

Cha: Getting to know the real Xi Jinping

Editor's Note: Victor Cha is senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. and director of Asian Studies at Georgetown University.  For more follow @CSIS_org on Twitter.

By Victor Cha - Special to CNN

The buzz in Washington this week felt like the equivalent of an official State Visit (the highest honor given by the White House to a visiting head of state) - people were asking who got invited to the State Department lunch hosted by Secretary Clinton and Vice-president Biden, and the CEO roundtable event hosted by the US-China Business Council in honor of Chinese vice-president and leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping.  CNN footage at Andrews Air Force Base showed Xi deplaning and receiving a red carpet arrival.  Obama sat with Xi in the Oval Office, and did a press spray (reserved usually only for visiting heads of state), referring to the fact that the Chinese vice-president may attend a Lakers game during his time in the U.S.

Even if Xi is the putative next leader of China, Americans usually do not get all in a tizzy about such not-yet-crowned visitors.  This sort of “star quality” treatment only happens to…. well, U.S. vice presidents or presidents, when they travel abroad.

This unusual Yankee hospitality reflects how important the Obama administration sees cooperation from China’s next leader for America’s future.  Whether it is China’s military (the U.S. wants greater transparency about the People's Liberation Army buildup), Syria (China vetoed a recent United Nations Security Council resolution), counterproliferation (better cooperation on Iran and North Korea), or the economy (Chinese compliance with World Trade Organization regulations and greater stakeholdership in the global economic recovery), the “to-do” list is long, so why not get a head start on this with Xi?

Xi presumably had his own notepad of questions for his host Joe Biden and the president, not least of which was getting the lowdown on America’s recent professed “strategic pivot” Asia (“is this directed against China?”), and its massive deficit spending (a good part of which is financed by borrowing from the Chinese).

No major agreement on any of these issues was reached.  After all, Xi is not president yet; by the time he becomes one, Obama may not be his counterpart.  But this “getting-to-know-you” visit was important in other respects.

What the U.S. really sought with this visit (and with Biden’s trip to China this past summer) was to build a basis for communication with the next leader of China.  As of late, the United States and China have been talking at each other, not to each other - each with its own complaints about the other’s policies.  What is needed is a genuine dialogue based on personal relationships rather than stilted talking points. This is the only way to make progress with China.

Second, the friendly optics of the visit were meant to dampen rising critical sentiments in both countries.  In the U.S., China has become the whipping boy for many American economic problems, a dynamic that is sure to worsen during this year’s presidential campaign.  In China, incessant American finger-pointing is seen by a young generation of Chinese bloggers as the complaints of a declining power, looking to block China’s rise rather than solve its own problems.  This dynamic, sometimes window-dressed as nationalism, is unhealthy for both sides.

Can Xi be what the U.S. dreams of - a dynamic new leader who is willing to break China (pardon the pun) inside the Communist Party of China and make his country more of a responsible stakeholder in world affairs and the global economy?  It’s hard to say at this point.  On the one hand, Xi represents a new generation of cosmopolitan Chinese leadership who has had more experience with the U.S. (Xi’s now-famous 1985 trip to Iowa being one example).  He is willing to take on hard issues and bring more dynamism to the job than his straight-laced predecessor.  On the other, Xi personally experienced the Cultural Revolution, which makes him cautious about the fragility of political life in China.  More importantly, the job of president in China does not reward “out-of-the-box” thinking.  It rewards convention and conservative actions, at least in its initial year.

Thus, the next occupant of the Oval Office, be it Obama or his Republican opponent, may not know the real Xi Jinping, and China’s direction, for at least a few more years.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Victor Cha.

Post by:
Topics: China

soundoff (66 Responses)
  1. j. von hettlingen

    Who is Xi Jinping? The author made a point. No one may know the real Xi Jinping! A "princeling", born into power and privilege, he had spent his life in the Communist Party. lived in a cave in one of China's poorest regions and knows how it's like to be an outcast, when his father fell out with Mao and went to jail. He is business-friendly, while overseeing a system in which the state controls many sectors of the economy.
    He is a consensus figure that all – the Communist Party and the business community as well as the rich and the poor – can accept, due to his ability to appeal to almost everyone and didn't seem to have alienated anyone in his rise through the ranks. He makes an impression of being confident and open without giving himself away. Having gone through hardship he had in the past shown that he had little time with foreign criticism of China. Known for being pragmatic, tough and scrupulous, he's highly respected. He is aware of the huge social problems that need to be dealt with and the economic expectations that he has to live up to.

    February 15, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Reply
    • Amato

      Chinese family structure is generally very tight, more so than the Americans' or Europeans ‘families; close family members’ life’s give some hints about the person.

      February 15, 2012 at 11:22 pm | Reply
    • ObjectiveView

      You make a great analysis. Congratulation on your fine comment.

      February 17, 2012 at 2:24 am | Reply
    • Lamb

      Over 80% of the Chinese economy is private, not state controlled.

      February 17, 2012 at 3:53 pm | Reply
    • ObjectiveView

      I read from Chinese side of New China Agency. They accentuates the positive side of the visits, and make it plain that Chinese only want to appeal to negotiation, open dialogue and compromise for solution. They do not want any military confrontation for economic interest.

      February 18, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Reply
  2. George Patton

    Let's just hope that Xi Jinping won't be dumb enough to bail out the Eurozone finacially, thus prolonging the misery of millions of Europeans for years to come. The Eurozone needs to be dissolved, the sooner the better!!!

    February 15, 2012 at 7:51 pm | Reply
    • BeHonest

      George Patton – wouldn't it be truer to say that you want the eurozone to fail because it affects America ! And if the uncertainty continues, your dollar will be up and down like a yo-yo?

      Since when would an American care about the rest of the world if it DIDN'T affect you personally? And I don't mean WW1 and WW2 – they're history and you can't live on that. I mean NOW.

      February 18, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Reply
  3. Kevin Daly

    Why is 6% a large share of the US debt. If I owned 6% of a business or a piece of land unless these items were fantastic in size it would be nothing. The US people & the different parts of the US government own US debt!!!!

    February 15, 2012 at 8:47 pm | Reply
    • The gardener

      @malysia boleh, when was the last time Malaysia invaded by another country? how often Malaysia gets harassed by neighboring country, like China? And don't forget a large part of Malaysia business in in the hand of Chinese capitalists, and you should know how often Chinese do the Chinese things. Wake up dude.

      February 18, 2012 at 9:54 am | Reply
  4. Nguyen

    We're giving China too much credit than it deserves. How can a communist state be a true, respected super power? It's not going to happen. China already is a bullying state-claiming most of the South China Sea for itself with warships patrolling the area. Much of the west now drops its guard against communism. This is a grave mistake!

    February 16, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Reply
    • Data1000

      China stopped aspiring to become a communist country soon after Mao died in 1978. Today, China is a capitalist nation, politically – an authoritarian government.

      February 16, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Reply
    • Malaysia Boleh

      The dispute in South China Sea is only an issue when Vietnam and Philippines make it an issue. Note that Malaysia also has a claim but it has no issue with China. Why? Because it knows how to work with China.

      February 16, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Reply
      • Freerange_ape

        @malysiah, you are telling me Malaysia is safe from China? or is very much too far for China to bother right now. Wait and see, you are too naive.

        February 18, 2012 at 11:53 am |
    • Justin

      It seems vietnam is also communism. lol

      February 16, 2012 at 6:59 pm | Reply
      • Bill Nye the science guy

        8=D Do any of you agree?

        February 17, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • Lamb

      Let's rename South China Sea. Call it Vietnam Sea, for Nguyen's sake.

      February 17, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Reply
    • BeHonest

      Very well said. You see the truth.

      February 18, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Reply
  5. jackinbox

    China won't change directions. It is working well for them. The problem is with the US. We see what we want to see and ignore what is happening and ignore whatever they are saying.

    The biggest challenge to America is the development of their internal market. Once th

    February 16, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Reply
    • jackinbox

      Once that happens we loose all our leverage. They on the other hand, will shut themselves in again and don't bother with the outside world.

      February 16, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Reply
    • Cody

      China is completely dependent on the outside world. Their trade surplus is the only thing they really have going for them. They have the same problem we have – lack of a Middle Class.

      February 16, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Reply
      • jackinbox

        Well, you should go out and walk around, not just feed on the stuff coming out of your own azz.

        February 16, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
  6. Brooke

    Whether China's amazing rise will be peaceful or not depends largely on how the US and the West react to said growth. China has very very little control over it. If the US and the West continues to block and hampers China's growth by being belligerent, confrontational etc than it will be negative.. If the US embraces their growth and understand the cultural differences then it will be peaceful. It's really as simple as that.
    If the US continues to push their values and belief system on china than I'm afraid their rise will not be peaceful. The US is like a newborn compare to China's history and culture. They were around even before the early Egyptians. The US is not even 250 yrs old.

    February 16, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Reply
    • JJ

      Just finished a book called "A contest for supremacy" from Aaron Friedberg. He should learn more from you on how to deal with China.

      February 16, 2012 at 9:02 pm | Reply
    • 5th Marine

      The claim that "China has very little control over it" is ridiculous. The CCP & PLA hold the destiny of China in their hands, and it seems they've been careless far too often. Belligerency and confrontationalism are a hallmark of Chinese nationalism (created to distract the Chinese people from the brutalities of said CCP/PLA), from the invasion/occupation of Tibet, their support of the brutal North Koreans and the Burmese military regime, their desire for hegemony in the western Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean, and the south China Sea.

      If the Chinese would be responsible as a Great Power should be, if the Han would not be discriminitorly abusive towards their minorities, and if they would end their occupation/colonization of Tibet along with the murders, arrests, and "disappearances" that accompany that brutal occupation, perhaps the East and the West can cooperate. However I fear that the Chinese still have the self-perception of "the central empire", that the world belongs to them. Also,although there will naturally be differences culturally,and every nation has the right to practice their political system, there are certain basic rights we all have as human beings. Life, liberty, family, and freedom of thought for starters. These will not destroy your stability!

      February 16, 2012 at 9:28 pm | Reply
      • David Miller

        I think the Tibetans are pretty happy with where they are today. The religion groups are a different story. China should stay its course and never back down from those religion fanatics. Tibetans are only people like every one of us, advocating that they are much happier to be Dalia's slaves is just ludicrous, unless you believe the same with the African Americans.

        February 17, 2012 at 1:58 am |
      • BeHonest

        Ma0 and St@lin would be soooooo proud of you!

        February 18, 2012 at 1:50 pm |
      • BeHonest

        Sorry my comment was for David Miller

        February 18, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
      • mary

        to 5th Marine
        Your comment (below) is the most astute on this site. The brutalities of the Chinese communist leadershp towards the most innocent speaks volumes of how they 'handle' people. The US leadership should be ashamed of themselves and how they are 'bowing down' to thuggery and murderers. So many of us have lost all respect for the US adminstration – so embarressing to see them fall over themselves the way they just did for Xi (leader in waiting.. if it happens).. The US badly needs the new leadership which is coming....

        ------------------------------------

        "The claim that "China has very little control over it" is ridiculous. The CCP & PLA hold the destiny of China in their hands, and it seems they've been careless far too often. Belligerency and confrontationalism are a hallmark of Chinese nationalism (created to distract the Chinese people from the brutalities of said CCP/PLA), from the invasion/occupation of Tibet, their support of the brutal North Koreans and the Burmese military regime, their desire for hegemony in the western Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean, and the south China Sea.

        If the Chinese would be responsible as a Great Power should be, if the Han would not be discriminitorly abusive towards their minorities, and if they would end their occupation/colonization of Tibet along with the murders, arrests, and "disappearances" that accompany that brutal occupation, perhaps the East and the West can cooperate. However I fear that the Chinese still have the self-perception of "the central empire", that the world belongs to them. Also,although there will naturally be differences culturally,and every nation has the right to practice their political system, there are certain basic rights we all have as human beings. Life, liberty, family, and freedom of thought for starters. These will not destroy your stability!

        February 18, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
    • mba

      you have it right. I'm Chinese overseas. amerians's thinking to me is like 2 year old. really childish and barbarian

      February 17, 2012 at 5:51 am | Reply
      • BeHonest

        mba – Excellent comment.

        February 18, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
    • Richard Rush

      You can be very old, only to be called an old fart. Do you understand that? China's 4000 yrs of what? when was the last time China invent anything? Cars? Computers? or simply chow mein? Please don't too contemptuous of others. For Chinese abroad to live in harmony with others, China should ask themselves of what they have done for the world for the last 250 yrs! If you are Chinese Americans, should be proud to be American. Don't try to chinese that , chinese this .... I am sick of your crying for recognition. Don't worry we recognize you, especially when you claim more than 1/7 of the world population.

      February 18, 2012 at 10:01 pm | Reply
  7. Donald

    Xi Jinping.......the next leader of the U.S.

    February 16, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Reply
  8. ccpdoomed

    Mr. She (Xi) looks like to have a hurdle to clear in his final drive to the top later this year. His behaviors in America have shown so far too out of line as compared to Hu Jintao's foreign "hostile forces" reference. Of course China's top Party leadership contention is always only a guesswork, the unexpected is to be expected. His position in the Party and government may be far from being solid.

    February 16, 2012 at 8:38 pm | Reply
    • ObjectiveView

      Your name already shows that anything you said will be biased and irrational. Period.

      February 18, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Reply
  9. DO

    Pete Hoekstra hates China

    February 16, 2012 at 9:29 pm | Reply
  10. Joink

    Who's writing this story? People are so dumb they don't even know the real Mao, Che or Castro. Do you think you can educate someone on this guy? Go watch some more Spongebob.

    February 16, 2012 at 10:09 pm | Reply
  11. hello world

    China backs Iran more than the U.S. Another Zionist Jew game to shake hands with the common man and penetrate him afterwards.

    February 16, 2012 at 11:22 pm | Reply
    • Chris

      Nazi much?

      February 17, 2012 at 12:51 am | Reply
    • BeHonest

      Hatred only harms YOU Sonny Jim – The people you hate either don't KNOW you hate them – or if they do know they don't CARE.

      February 18, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Reply
  12. Leemiso

    I agree with your analysis.
    AndI think that U.S. should meet with China and listen to what they want more than now.

    February 17, 2012 at 3:15 am | Reply
    • BeHonest

      Leemiso – I don't mean this rudely , but your comment seems to be genuine but not realistic.

      USA have no CHOICE but to sit down and listen to China – they owe them $4 Trillion or more, and depend on them to keep greedy Americans happy with shedloads of the cheap junk they like.

      February 18, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Reply
  13. mba

    who wrote this? did he graduate from kingdergarden?

    February 17, 2012 at 5:39 am | Reply
  14. tenzin

    so far our world is in a sound sleep but the (black politics)-corrupted policies will soon shake our world...NO TO COMMUNIST....SAY YES TO NON-VIOLENCE AND DEMOCRACY....EVERY ONE DESERVE TO BE A FREE MAN AND ENJOY THE ONE LIFE...MAY GOD BLESS CHINA AND MAY CHINA FULFILL THE WISH/DREAMS OF ALL THE TIBETAN AND MINORITIES IN CHINA...(SAVE TIBET,SAVE THE WORLD)

    February 17, 2012 at 10:57 am | Reply
    • Sowhat

      Ummm.... the democratic system only works when smart people are elected, not goofs or crazies...like one of the parties in the united states. Meritocracy or technocracy works better, and China isn't even considered communist now.

      February 18, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Reply
  15. WANGCHUK

    Its better if Mr.XI...could stay in china and take care of poor chinese and minorities group rather then roaming around the world with lots of criticism forgot behind...Dear Mr.XI...(GET WELL SOON!!!!!)

    February 17, 2012 at 11:06 am | Reply
  16. Bill Nye the science guy

    Oh MY GGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOODDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDD

    February 17, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Reply
    • Nick

      how did you makew your reply that long and only 2 lines?

      February 18, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Reply
  17. Bill Nye the science guy

    Iowa=Corn

    February 17, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Reply
  18. Bill Nye the science guy

    Texas=Cowboys and Rednecks

    February 17, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Reply
  19. Bill Nye the science guy

    Califonia=Hippes

    February 17, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Reply
  20. Bill Nye the science guy

    My nye is science

    February 17, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Reply
  21. Bill Nye the science guy

    Im in the shadows I am in testubes that haven't been washed Im Bill Nye The Science Guy

    February 17, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Reply
  22. Maya

    let me lick your testubes

    February 17, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Reply
  23. Bill Nye the science guy

    Ok

    February 17, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Reply
  24. Maya

    dick dick dick dick billy mays here

    February 17, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Reply
  25. Bill Nye the science guy

    11111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111222222222222222222222222222211111111111000000000000000000000000012121212121246. I HAZ THE HACKZ

    February 17, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Reply
    • Maya

      gulp penis

      February 17, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Reply
  26. Bill Nye the science guy

    YUM ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

    February 17, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Reply
  27. Larry

    in order to earn the respect of the world, they must earn the respect of their brothers in Taiwan. Once both sides align themselves, there will be a stronger Chinese influence in the world. Both sides must not let the US instigate and slow the process. But as long as China is authoritarian and its people brainwashed by the false nationalism that TW belongs to them under their 1 China policy, it's not going to happen. Sad but this gives the US more opprotunity to benefit for the forseeable future.

    February 18, 2012 at 10:16 am | Reply
  28. never had a chance

    Some one tell Obama not to trust Korea and tell him the economy sucks

    March 9, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Reply
  29. ObjectiveView

    How did you make your Avatar so big and visible?

    February 17, 2012 at 2:26 am | Reply

Post a comment


 

CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,509 other followers