Can Xi Jinping Clean Up China?
Our country must develop. If we do not develop then we will be bullied. Development is the only hard truth. – Deng Xiaopeng
Predicting and working towards China’s downfall is a Western cottage industry. Every arm of the Western media participates. The Economist alone has foretold the imminent collapse of China’s economy 18 times since 2001. Nevertheless, the Chinese economy developed as planned and confounded us all.
We’ve become so accustomed to our media’s adulation of our Western criminal leaders that it’s useful to consider how China’s leaders might appear if we give them admiring treatment. Lets look.
Today – after 10 years of breakneck expansion during which President Hu established his country as the fastest-growing economy in world history while dramatically reducing poverty, providing universal health insurance, completing the Three Gorges dam, creating the largest, safest-but-one, most profitable high-speed rail network on earth, and engineering a dramatic rapprochement with Taiwan (thereby winning an 80% trust and approval rating from the Chinese people) – it’s time for a reformer.
Despite the reluctance of our media to write about him, Xi is well known and widely admired.
Born famous, the princeling son of a revolutionary hero, he suffered 7 years of exiled deprivation while his father was humiliated and imprisoned. Undeterred, he chose a life of public service and spent years doing obscure jobs in backward provinces. He thus brings the combined political attributes of high birth in a still-Confucian culture, survival of injustice and deprivation, and personal triumph after a bitter ordeal. It has not hurt his standing amongst the common folks that he is married to the most famous woman in China. Nor has his daughter’s attendance at Harvard dented his esteem amongst China’s upwardly-mobile middle-class.
In addition to his more obscure postings, Xi also held high-profile positions like aide to the Secretary-General of China’s Military Commission. His consistent results were reportedly the fruits of his patient, diplomatic, yet relentless focus on completing his assignments. He attracted almost universal admiration from underlings and overlings while making no detectable enemies.
His equally well-educated, well-connected, well-placed relatives chose to create wealth for themselves. That their careers were helped by their relationship to their rising brother is certain. But their deceased father’s prestige would have been far more useful to them than the reputation of a bureaucrat sibling in a rural region. His relatives’ wealth will be understood by Chinese as the combined results of luck and the near-impossibility of resisting the blandishments offered to relatives of every influential political leader on earth. (The Bush family fortune is an elegant expression of this truth).
That he can execute a plan is well known. The Beijing Olympics, the highest-profile event in China’s high-profile history and an unparalleled opportunity for failure and corruption, went off flawlessly, without a hint of corruption. It was Xi’s project.
If he is to be a successful reformer his personal moral qualities matter even more than his executive skills. Known from early childhood for his frankness he developed into a remarkably mature character. Asked about the Cultural Revolution – the cause and setting for his family’s suffering – he explained, “It was emotional. It was a mood. And when the ideals of the Cultural Revolution could not be realized, it proved an illusion.” The same qualities are reflected in his first public interview.
Americans who have met Xi describe him as a man of “immense competence”. Lee Kwan Yu, Singapore’s founder, said “I would put him in the Nelson Mandela class of persons. A man with enormous emotional stability”.
Xi’s career was already notable in that he has never been implicated in a serious scandal. But can he deal effectively with an entrenched, corrupt bureaucracy? Fortunately we have a case study: Shanghai, for centuries a corrupt powerhouse and thorn in the side of China’s government.
After a massive corruption scandal there in 2006 Xi was named Shanghai provincial Party Chief. The office is one of the most important regional posts in China and the appointment was a clear sign of either confidence or desperation from the Central Government.
Post-Xi Shanghai shows what effectiveness can accomplish when backed by moral clarity. There has not been a single major scandal in the city-province since Xi arrived there. (For comparison, multiply New Jersey’s corruption by 3 – population – and measure it over 5 years).
Shanghai is not only outgrowing its wicked ways, it is maturing into exemplary citizenship. Today if you’re a foreign company embroiled in an IP lawsuit, for example, choose Shanghai as your venue. There you’ll find honest, educated, expert judges to hear your case. And while you’re there consider enrolling your kids in school. Shanghai now has the largest and finest school system in the world. And BTW, don’t waste your time trying to bribe your way out of a traffic tickets. Shanghai cops take a very dim view of bribery.
Now imagine a China in 2023: the world’s largest economy by far, peaceful and honest. After all, that’s Xi’s agenda and the nation’s expectation. Expect to see China Shanghaied.