Xi Jinping

As China's leader, Xi Jinping shows the world a different face

Used to his stern predecessor, foreign leaders and businesspeople say country's president is charming easy-going and a natural politician

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 November, 2013, 2:36am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 November, 2013, 2:36am

In his first year as China's face to the world, President Xi Jinping has attempted to establish himself as a more open-minded, easy-going and pragmatic leader than his stern predecessor, Hu Jintao.

Foreign leaders, thinkers and businesspeople who have met Xi since he became Communist Party general secretary last November describe him as courteous and affable, qualities they say give him an air of confidence and strength.

At the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Bali last month, Xi was seen smiling warmly while chatting with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

But Singapore's "founding father" Lee Kuan Yew, who has met Xi on several occasions, says he does not easily reveal his emotions. "He is reserved - not in the sense that he will not talk to you, but in the sense that he will not betray his likes and dislikes," Lee wrote in his recent book, Lee Kuan Yew: the Grand Master's Insights on China, the US and the World. "There is always a pleasant smile on his face, whether or not you have said something that annoyed him."

Former US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton has described Xi as a more natural politician than the previous president.

"The new president appears to be a pragmatic leader," she told the Pacific Council on International Policy in May. "He's also much more of a politician than his predecessor, Hu Jintao.

"I watched him walk a room," she said. "I watched him interact, not only with Chinese colleagues and American leaders, but unions from all over the world."

Jon Huntsman, the Putonghua-speaking former US ambassador to China, told The Wall Street Journal that Xi was a "reform-minded leader on the economic side" who appeared to take fighting graft seriously. He cited the investigation of Jiang Jiemin , the former director of the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, as evidence.

Xi has used encounters with foreigners to show his personable side, appearing more often with his stylish wife, Peng Liyuan , the People's Liberation Army singer.

During his trip to the US in February last year, he mingled with farmers and students alike, gaining headlines when he noted his enjoyment of basketball and Hollywood films like The Godfather and Saving Private Ryan.

Xi's easy manner has won the same favourable reviews from foreigners inside and outside of politics. Pedro Nueno, founder of the China Europe International Business School, said Xi came off as smart and self-confident during a meeting of foreign experts in December.

"He showed a very international and open attitude in the whole meeting and kept a dialogue where we were able to speak and express our ideas and opinions clearly," Nueno said.