Xi Jinping

Xi Jinping: Man for all factions is tip for top

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 October, 2007, 12:00am

Xi Jinping , a so-called princeling whose father was a Communist revolutionary, is now the man who would be king. Mr Xi is trusted by president and Communist Party general secretary Hu Jintao even though his privileged background might seem to put him at odds with the leader. But he also has ties to former party chief and president Jiang Zemin of the 'Shanghai Gang' of current and former leaders from the city, which has at times clashed with the present leadership.

Because of his links to both camps, Mr Xi, 54, was seen as the ideal compromise candidate for Shanghai party secretary, a post he took in March after his predecessor was sacked for corruption. His unique position makes him acceptable to both sides for higher office as well, though Mr Hu is not believed to see him as his preferred successor.

His famous father, Xi Zhongxun , was an ally of paramount leader Deng Xiaoping . The elder Xi is said to have stood by Hu Yaobang , the former party chief forced to step down in 1987 for supporting pro-democracy protests by students the previous year.

In a carefully orchestrated campaign in the weeks before the congress, state media lavished praise on the younger Xi, who could be the prime candidate to replace Mr Hu after he steps down in 2012. A front-page story in the party mouthpiece, People's Daily, was headlined: 'Glad to Hear Good Tidings from Shanghai'.

Mr Xi was considered a shoo-in to become a member of the party's Politburo but was originally a dark horse for its standing committee, before rising to the top of the list in the days before the congress. Television footage of Mr Xi trailing closely on the heels of Mr Hu while he was visiting Shanghai for the Special Olympics this month was taken as a hint of things to come.

Mr Xi remains largely a mystery to common Shanghai people, and many resented an 'outsider' taking over the city. Since he assumed the job seven months ago, he has kept a low profile and remains in the shadow of his famous wife and his late father, who served as a vice-premier.

Mr Xi's wife, folk singer Peng Liyuan , commands the spotlight. She is known for her roles in revolutionary operas and renditions of patriotic songs, such as On the Land of Hope, which were popular in the 1980s. A soprano, she has appeared at galas to mark the anniversaries of the founding of the army and the return of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty.

The couple are believed to have a teenage daughter.

One foreign government official who has met Mr Xi described him as 'poker-faced', with a public persona that reveals little emotion.

Caution is normal political behaviour on the mainland, especially for an official whose star is on the rise. His behaviour is understandable following a corruption scandal which unseated his predecessor as Shanghai party secretary, Chen Liangyu , for embezzling from the city's pension fund.

Since coming to Shanghai, he has stressed co-operation with other provinces in the Yangtze River delta, which have resented the favouritism shown the city.

Soon after arriving, he paid tribute to China's revolutionary roots by visiting the site of the First Communist Party Congress in 1921 in an event orchestrated for the television cameras.

A physically imposing man, people who have met Mr Xi describe him as courteous and comfortable with his authority. A family friend told The Times newspaper: 'He is a very neutral person who has always avoided showing any strong political opinions, neither supporting or opposing people or their policies openly. He is not someone with great charisma, neither will he cause any harm.'

One rumour making the rounds, which paints Mr Xi in a favourable light, is that he refused the house originally granted him by the Shanghai government as too big, in a deliberate move to reject luxury.

Retired Shanghai worker Qian Rongpei said: 'I don't know about Xi Jinping as he just took over the post. I only get information from the media or other people's gossip that he often meets those at the grass roots.'

Chen, Shanghai's previous party secretary, is now infamous for corruption and his 'degenerate' lifestyle. His predecessor, the late vice-premier Huang Ju , was widely disliked for putting his career before Shanghai and being a lackey of the central government.

Mr Xi is a native of Shaanxi province , where his father is said to have welcomed Mao Zedong at the end of the Long March in 1935.

Like many technocrats, he has an engineering background, having earned a chemical engineering degree from Tsinghua University, also Mr Hu's alma mater.

He held posts in rural Hebei province early in his career, before moving to high-profile jobs such as governor of the booming southern province of Fujian and most recently party secretary of Zhejiang , the centre of private enterprise on the mainland.

Governing prosperous provinces has made him business-friendly and given him experience valued in a rapidly developing China. US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who met Mr Xi, described him as 'the kind of guy who knows how to get things over the goal line'.

Li Fei , deputy director of the Taiwan research centre at Xiamen University, said Mr Xi sought to lure big Taiwanese companies to invest in Fujian.

'He is a suitable person for the political field,' Professor Li said. 'He liked to receive suggestions from experts. He was the first one in this province to set up a team of counsellors for the government.'

Mr Xi arrived in Fujian following a major corruption scandal involving smuggling kingpin Lai Changxing .

In Zhejiang, Mr Xi earned a reputation for dealing with natural disasters, like the typhoons which regularly hit the province.

'He raised the idea of 'green' development in a harmonious way long before others,' said a university professor, referring to President Hu's stress on sustainable development and social harmony.

Since arriving in Shanghai, Mr Xi has delivered a number of bland pronouncements. 'I will do my best to do more good things for Shanghai people,' he said shortly after his arrival. He said Shanghai should take a leading role in financial reforms. And he told local legislators 'lessons should be learned' from the city's corruption scandal.