Recently appointed general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Xi Jinping, has moved with an alacrity very unusual for senior Chinese leaders to leave his imprimatur on the policies and programmes that China will follow for the next five years. In the process he has set
himself apart from all the six other members of the Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) and raised popular expectations.
Xi Jinping started this barely a month after the 18th Party Congress, held in Beijing from November 8-14, 2012, appointed him chief of the Party and chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission. The Party Congress also cleared the way for his appointment as president of China by the first session of the National People’s Congress, due to convene in Beijing on March 5, 2013.
Xi Jinping publicly signalled the priority areas for his first term in office in early December. He selected the prosperous Guangdong province for his first visit outside Beijing after assuming office. The choice of Guangdong was deliberate and laden with meaning. The party secretary of the province, Wang Yang, had the reputation of being pro-reform and had the support of Hu Deping, son of the former, popular and liberal party general secretary Hu Yaobang. Hu Deping had identified Guangdong as the province with the potential to resolve the vexatious land reform issue. Deng Xiaoping had visited Guangdong on his well-known ‘southern’, or nanxun, tour in 1992 to give a push to economic reforms when they had threatened to stall, and commentators and journalists promptly compared Xi Jinping’s visit with Deng Xiaoping’s ‘nanxun’ in 1992. Xi Jinping’s visit signalled his commitment to economic reforms.
While a visit to Guangdong province had personal meaning for Xi Jinping, it additionally allowed him to highlight his family’s association with Deng Xiaoping. Xi Jinping’s father Xi Zhongxun, while party secretary of Guangdong and later as China’s vice premier, had established the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone. Xi Jinping visited his mother, Qi Xin, who is a resident of Shenzhen and the four retired cadres who had accompanied Deng Xiaoping during his ‘southern tour’. He visited the Deng Xiaoping Statue in Lotus Hill Park where he laid a wreath. The visit was first picked up by the Hong Kong media and Hong Kong’s Phoenix TV. They observed that Xi Jinping, who advocates a frugal lifestyle for Party cadres, was accompanied by his wife and that his entire entourage travelled in mini-buses escorted by police but without disrupting normal traffic. He was photographed occasionally mixing with the common people. China’s Mainland media gave prominent coverage to the tour, but four days later.
However, Xi Jinping’s four day (Dec 7-11, 2012) inspection tour of the rich southern province of Guangdong, when he visited Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Shunde and Guangzhou, did not only have economic content. In the course of the ‘inspection’, Xi Jinping visited People’s Liberation Army (PLA) bases including the 124th division of the 42nd Army in Luofushan, Huizhou, and PLA Navy bases. He visited the South China Sea fleet and boarded the destroyer ‘Huizhou’. In Zhuhai, he visited the China Aviation Industry General Aircraft Co, which manufactures military and civil aircraft.
The official news agency Xinhua reported Xi Jinping as emphasising the Party’s supremacy over the Army in his official speeches at the military bases. He stressed that “whatever the time and whatever the circumstances, the army must listen to the Party and follow the Party”. He stressed the importance of training and urged PLA officers and non-commissioned officers to adopt ‘real combat criteria’ in military training and intensify awareness among the soldiers. Xi Jinping reiterated that the PLA’s “core task” was to improve its ability to wage “regional wars in the information age and conduct diversified military operations”. Xi Jinping’s tour included a visit to China’s leading IT companies, like Tencent, thereby seeming to hint at the close collaboration between the PLA and IT companies, of whom there is a concentration in Guangdong’s Dongguan county.
Another important feature which Xi Jinping chose to stress very early in his term is the “Chinese Dream”. This blends his concept of the country’s future with the probable key thrust areas for his administration. The “Chinese Dream” could be his attempt at a contribution to the Chinese Communist Party’s lexicon in case it is finally introduced in to the Party Constitution in 2017.
Following the 18th Party Congress this concept, which has become a hot topic on Sina Weibo and Chinese Television, is being referred to by high ranking Party cadres with increasing frequency, including in their interactions with foreigners when comparisons with the ‘American Dream’ are not infrequent. Party cadres say it envisages: Chinese people with higher incomes, better living conditions or environment and, a strong Chinese nation.