From princeling to president: Who is Chinese President Xi Jinping?

Alex Evangelista
From princeling to president: Who is Chinese President Xi Jinping?


Chinese President Xi Jinping's leadership is driven by his vision of the 'Chinese dream' – the great renewal and rejuvenation of the Chinese nation in all aspects

MANILA, Philippines – With improved ties between the Philippines and Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping has been a recurring figure in national affairs.

It seems Xi’s presence will continue to be felt over the next coming years, as he was reelected to a new term last March.

His leadership at present sees no end as China’s parliament abolished presidential term limits enshrined in their constitution, and no heir to the seat has been named.

The strongman, whose ties with President Duterte remain strong, is set to embark on a state visit to the Philippines from November 20 to 21 – the first visit of a Chinese president in 13 years.

Princeling’s rise to politics

Xi Jinping is no stranger to politics. Xi’s father, Xi Zhongxun, was the former vice premier and one of the founding fathers of the Communist Party of China (CPC).

Xi is seen as a “princeling” in the country, a term associated with children of prominent officials of the revolutionary party. Despite his privileged background, however, he experienced life from the grass roots after having been exiled to a remote village after his father’s imprisonment in the 1960s.

Working his way up, he entered politics back in 1974 after finally being accepted as member of the Communist Party. He was first assigned party secretary of Hebei province, then took on higher roles such as becoming party chief of Shanghai and, eventually, vice president of China in 2008.

Later, Xi joined the Politbury Standing Committee – the party’s decision making body – and obtained top positions as general secretary and chairman of the Central Military Commission in 2012.

He was elected president in 2013 by the National People’s Congress, succeeding Hu Jintao.

China dream and global initiative

As president, Xi envisioned the “Chinese dream,” or the overall rejuvenation and uplifting of the welfare of the entire nation as well as each citizen’s personal well-being. This dream was realized through various policies, both national and international, to boost the country’s economy, society, and diplomacy.

At the national level, Xi launched a sweeping campaign against graft and corruption in 2012, which punished more than one million low and high officials in the party as of 2017. Critics, however, see the campaign as Xi’s attempt to neutralize his political rivals.

He also imposed an anti-poverty drive in 2017, with a pledge to eradicate poverty in China by 2020. This facilitated a wave of relocations around the country, moving those within the poverty line to new, government-built apartment complexes.

The decades-old one-child policy in China was also halted, with the country shifting its focus toward a more open health and population development.

Xi’s presidency has also propelled China’s influence to the global sphere, particularly with its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that aims to link the economic circles in East Asia and Europe, connecting China – on land and over water – to partners in Asia, Europe, and Africa. This initiative is set to bring in more investments, trade, and cultural exchanges between China and its partnered countries.

While the BRI is seen as an economic booster for Asia’s regional giant, it faces a stumbling block due to international tensions over China’s claims in the disputed South China Sea.

Setbacks, controversies

In spite of Xi’s reforms, his leadership still suffers from major setbacks in human rights, freedom of speech, and diplomatic disputes.

Online censorship continues to proliferate in China with its content closely monitored by the Communist party. Tighter cyber regulations have been imposed, such as live video streaming censorship and a 14-month “clean up” campaign on internet service providers and devices that use tools to circumvent the strict ruling. (READ: China orders tech firms to ramp up censorship)

The Chinese dream also turned sour for activists, rights lawyers, and journalists as the state renewed efforts in its crackdown against civil society in what analysts perceive as a way to muffle dissent.

Other countries – the Philippines included – have also been caught in a feud with China over trade and territorial disputes.

Despite ongoing talks on the contested South China Sea which also involves other countries like Vietnam and Japan, more than 1,600 Chinese structures have been set up in the area as of May 2018.

Nearly 800 of these structures can be found in the West Philippine Sea, the part of the South China Sea that belongs to the Philippines.

Military activities in the disputed waters have also increased tensions among countries. (READ: TIMELINE: The Philippines-China maritime dispute)

China has also been embroiled in a trade war with the United States, after the US imposed tariffs on Chinese products over alleged unfair trade practices.

China refused to back down, however, hitting back with tariffs on American goods as well. Beijing also has filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization against the US’ actions.

Despite months-long negotiations between the world’s two largest economies, the rift continues to escalate.–

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