Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

By on February 2nd, 2012

Columns
Tom Watkins
Tom Watkins

Guess Who’s
Coming to Dinner

February 3, 2012
Guess who’s coming to dinner, and on Valentine’s Day no less. None other than the future president of China.
Hu?
No, Vice President Xi (pronounced “shee”) Jinping. He is coming to the White House during the 40th anniversary this month of President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to China.
The likely next (s)elected president of China will be the guest of Vice President Biden, after Vice President Xi hosted Biden in China last year. President Obama has asked his vice president to coordinate the administration’s U.S.-China policy.
The current Chinese vice president is expected to succeed President Hu Jintao in a once-a-decade leadership change this year, around the same time the U.S. elections will take place. So while democracy elects, the Chinese Communist Party selects.
Why should we care? Because going forward, all major issues impacting the world will intersect at the corner of Beijing and Washington, DC.
As with many issues in China, gathering intelligence for a full picture of China’s leaders and their backgrounds is difficult.
So exactly who is Xi and what will his leadership mean to the world and, most importantly, to the U.S.?
We do know him as a “Chinese princeling,” the son of revolutionary hero and former Mao Zedong comrade Xi Zhongxun. He will be the first “princeling” to lead the country.
Xi Zhongxun, like Deng Xiaoping, China’s former leader who opened China to the world, was purged three times by Mao. He served as deputy prime minister from 1959 until 1962 and his falling out with Mao for the first time.
As a teenager, Xi Jinping suffered like many youth in the ’60s during the Cultural Revolution, having his education interrupted seven years when he was sent to the countryside to learn from the masses. And Xi, like most of China’s leaders, is an engineer. He also has a law degree. His wife, Peng Liyuan, is one of China’s most famous and celebrated folk singers and an army major general.
Part of the new fifth generation of Chinese leaders, Xi was born in June 1953, in Shaanxi province, a poor region of northwestern China. His rise to the top was apparent when a Communist Party Central Committee plenum appointed him vice chair of the military affairs committee that oversees China’s armed forces.
The appointment means that Xi is on target for the top three jobs in China: secretary of the Communist Party, state president, and civilian head of the military. The Communist Party rules over all in China. He will be known outside China as “President Xi,” however, the Communist Party post is where the true power lies.
Deng Xiaoping rehabilitated the senior Xi when Deng returned to power after Mao’s death in 1976. Xi Zhongxun was an economic reformer and was appointed governor of Guangdong Province by Deng Xiaoping in southern China, leading the liberal economic policies launched by Deng at the end of 1978.
The elder Xi is credited with the creation of the first Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Shenzhen, which grew from a small fishing village near Hong Kong to a bustling, super-modern city and manufacturing center. Today, Shenzhen’s population exceeds 10 million, as migrants pour from rural villages across China to help make Shenzhen ground zero in China’s rush to become the factory to the world.
The incoming president’s father, ever a reformer, sided with former Community Party General Secretary Hu Yaobang, who had been purged for his support of political liberalization and whose death triggered the Tiananmen Square “Incident in 1989.” Xi Zhongxun later condemned the military crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protesters on June 4, 1989.
Incoming president Xi was described in a 2011 Washington Post column as “pragmatic, serious, cautious, hard-working, down to earth and low-key”…and “a problem-solver and a leader.”
Xi Jinping will need all those attributes to govern the fastest-growing large world economy, home to one-fifth of the world’s population and where, as Cheng Li, a China expert at the Brookings Institution says, “The Chinese public is particularly resentful about the princelings’ control of both political and economic wealth.”
If the people become disenfranchised and subsequently act out their dissatisfaction, social order might well quickly become paramount, as the greatest fear of the communist leadership is losing control.
Xi Jinping will need to heed the words of Deng Xiaoping, who responded when asked about his plans of steering the Chinese economy after Mao’s death, “We will cross the river by feeling for the stones.” President Xi needs to step carefully to navigate the various hazards, internal and external, to China.
Will Xi Jinping, like his father Xi Zhongxun, become a 21st century reformer? If so, what form will his changes take?
If he inherited his father’s genes and embraces reformist impulses, the next decade might well prove an interesting ride for China and the rest of the world.
Yet, Xi came of age during the convulsion of the Cultural Revolution, with a bird’s eye view of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Incident, when the People’s Liberation Army turned its guns on its own people.
There can be little doubt that Xi will continue the focus of retaining the ultimate and complete power of the Communist Party while striving to maintain social control and stability and expanding economic growth.
Without sustained economic growth and a sense by the people that their lives are improving, the “mandate from heaven” allowing the communists complete rule might begin to unravel.
China’s leaders face several economic and social problems: inflation, credit and housing bubbles that are bursting, slumping housing sales, export markets that are tanking around the globe, and fears of internal unrest sparked by minorities — Mongols, Tibetans and Uyghurs.
Labor unrest in manufacturing regions in south China are feared to be the “spark that could ignite a raging forest fire,” as Mao famously said.
Wherever incoming president Xi looks — internally, around the globe, or to America — he can see the unrest that is sparked by economic decline.
In China, relationships matter. It is important that our leaders develop a deep relationship with the incoming leader of one-fifth of all humanity and a rising economic and military power. May our and China’s leaders find ways to work together in an open and cooperative manner, as though our collective actions impact all of humanity — because they will.
Welcome to America, Vice President Xi Jinping.
Tom Watkins, has been working to build economic, cultural and educational bridges with China for nearly a quarter century. A former Michigan state superintendent of schools, he is currently a U.S.-China business and educational consultant.

Tom Watkins

Tom Watkins has an eclectic career in both the public and private sectors. He served the citizens of Michigan as state superintendent of schools and director of the department of mental health. He has held leadership positions in higher education, business and behavioral health. Watkins has a interest and passion in all things China and has written hundreds of article on the value of this most important bilateral relationship in the world today.

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susan jones
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susan jones

Tom: thank you for writing about this.. It is hard enough keeping track of leaders in Lansing.. Across the ocean, we need to know more about this huge country….

angie
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angie

Why is it everytime I read about China, I become even more concerned about our future?

Alison
Guest
Alison

Thoughtful and insightful coverage on a subject few of us know much about– and should.
Seems that everything is coming up China nowadays. It seems wise, as the author suggests that we begin to learn more about this rising nation.

KP CHEN
Guest
KP CHEN

Mr. Xi is going to be the first Chinese leader born after not only WWII but also the birth of PRC nation of 1949. The leadership change of 2012 in China is a big sea change. In Xi’s era, politically, China likely will greet, the birth of some political parties, most likely, starting from overseas … Economically, GDP China might narrowly surpass U.S. in Xi’s years … The private business sector should gain a lot of more says and influences; religions, widely open, and the love-hate relationship between U.S. and China, likely more intense, plus more volatile. Chinese should learn… Read more »

Jon
Guest
Jon

Good article Tom. It will be interesting to see how the new leadership rules China. Hopefully it will be as partners with the U.S. I think that would be good for both countries.

Barry Singleton
Guest
Barry Singleton

We have so much to learn when it comes to ANYTHNG that is off our shores.
America needs to wake up and realize it is a big world out there. Simply beacuse we have been number 1 does not mean we get to stay # 1.

Dan Redford
Guest

As someone that lives in Beijing, and is deeply involved in U.S. – China affairs and business, I agree wholeheartedly with Tom’s assessment. It is imperative that our attention to the rise of the next president of China is more than just “window-dressing.” Michigan can still lead. At this time it still seems a bit politically unpopular to say, but China’s growth is continuing to fuel growth in our economy despite popular claims that China is responsible for Michigan’s jobless claims. A recent study by the Boston Consulting Group actually shows that manufacturing jobs are slowly but surely coming back… Read more »

Allan Adler
Guest
Allan Adler

We can resent China’s economic rise in power but unfortunately, we can’t ignore it.
It would be better to take some lessons from China and try to work for a more equal footing with that nation.
At least we need to recognize that China is an economic world power and that we need to find a way to benefit from them while maintaining our freedoms.

Andy
Guest

This article demonstrates Tom Watkin’s intimate knowledge on China’s ever changing economy, politics, and society. I have personally seeked Tom’s advice in setting up educational partnerships between Chinese and American schools. Tom is very well connected in the Chinese business community in Michigan.

Mark Francis
Guest

As we continue to evolve as a nation, it really is more important now more than ever to understand that we are now in a global economy. We have achieved so much in the last two hundred plus years. I always appreciate Tom’s insight on China and the need to develop an understanding with them and learn how to work together. If done correctly, there is much to look forward to.

zheng
Guest
zheng

You should be invited to the dinner and get us closer stories!

jin li
Guest
jin li

Mr. Watkins, thank you for speaking out and seeking ways to connect the Chinese and American people. I see too many people in America looking to find blame for what is wrong in America. China, has many problems– this I know as a Chinese student studing here in Michigan. Please know we average Chinese people want the same things my American friends want — to live in peace, have family, friends and make a living that is good and enjoy. We do not need to make one group of people bad so the other can be good. xie xie– or… Read more »

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[…] old and the son of Communist Party royalty, if one is permitted to use that phrase. His father, Xi Zhongxun, was one of the party’s early members, eventually becoming deputy prime minister before being […]

Nelli Wang
Guest
Nelli Wang

Thank you for helping to educate the people of America about the real China.
Like America, there is the governement – and there is the people– not one and the same

Elliot
Guest
Elliot

It will be interesting to see how this visit plays out on Tuesday.
On one hand we need China to help jump start our economy ( I expect some major announcement from the incoming China Pres– perhaps agricultural buys, planes etc) that will help.
All the while the whines coming from politicians that want the jobs— but also to bash China at the same time.
What will Romney do?

Martha
Guest
Martha

Very timely and informative with all that is going on with and in China today.
Good to know we have someone who can give the big picture without all the anti China spin

Beth Ryan
Guest
Beth Ryan

I appreciate this thoughtful writing that brings a wider and deeper perspective to what is happening ( or not) in Lansing.
It needs to be understood, that as the 21st century accelerates, all that will happen will be global and America and China are the new ground zero.
Hopefully, this Gov will understand that we cant be a island and and grow and prosper.

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