Xi Jinping represents a shift in Chinese leadership style, observers say

Observers differ on what to make of Xi Jinping, but agree that his confidence sets him apart

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 June, 2013, 4:04am

President Xi Jinping is expected to consolidate his image as a man capable of leading the world's second-largest economy, and one who is more determined to stand up for China's interests, during talks with his US counterpart Barack Obama, US-based China watchers say.

Xi, who was installed as president in March, has shown himself to be more willing to incorporate his personality into his leadership style than predecessor Hu Jintao , showing audiences at home and abroad that he is a personable, but firm, leader, said Jeffrey Wasserstrom, a history professor at University of California and author of China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know .

"For Xi Jinping, the meeting with Obama is a chance to solidify an image that he is leading one of the world's great powers," he said. "This will give him an opportunity to at least show he is firm on China's interests, but also an approachable leader."

Xi has attempted to show "a shift in Chinese leadership style" and portray himself as a statesmen rather than a technocrat, Wasserstrom said.

He looks "similar to the leaders we expect to see of countries like France", despite there being no sign of him being a liberal-minded reformist, he added.

Xi's previous visit to the United States last year, when he was still vice-president, saw him make a nostalgic return to Iowa, where he had spent time studying American agriculture almost 30 years ago, and also show his appreciation of Hollywood films.

In his trip to Costa Rica on Monday, he and his soprano wife Peng Liyuan , visited a coffee farm in a publicity stunt that not only boosted Xi's image but also showed him to be a more confident leader, which analysts said might make him more difficult to deal with.

"Xi has a much more relaxed, outgoing personality than the more tightly controlled, almost robotic, personality of Hu Jintao," said June Teufel Dreyer, a political science professor at the University of Miami. "I believe this reflects his inner self-confidence, that he will be very assertive and tough in his private conversation with Obama."

Xi, the son of the revolutionary Xi Zhongxun and whose ties with the Chinese military date back to the 1980s when he was the secretary of then-defence minister Geng Biao , has maintained a tough stance against China's neighbours over territorial disputes.

In his first diplomatic tour as President, to Moscow in March, Xi declared that Sino-Russian ties were the world's most important bilateral relationships, which provided a strategic balance to the global order.

"Xi has demonstrated that he is more comfortable with power, and is not intimated by the problems that confront China," said Clayton Dube, executive director of the University of Southern California's US-China Institute.

"A reason behind him becoming the head of the Communist Party is because people have confidence in him, that he is somebody who can communicate well and inspire confidence."

Xi's personality raises concerns that he may be more nationalistic and intolerant of political change, Dube said. But his strong leadership style might actually help improve Sino-US ties. "He is somebody who can get things done."





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