Op-Ed: In China, Xi Jinping is getting an unprecedented third term. What should the world expect?
February 12, 2017
In November, Chinese President Xi Jinping got nearly 57 percent of the vote in the first round of the presidential election. He will face his main challenger, former vice president and Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, in a run-off on March 18th.
In an election that many observers described as “posturing,” Xi may well be positioning himself to win the presidency. That should come as little surprise, given his personal popularity as well as his political prowess and his determination to win. And in doing so, Xi may actually achieve more than almost any previous leader-in-waiting in China.
No one could doubt that Xi has a great deal of charm. He is a young, charismatic man who can be trusted with the national economy and who seems to have a genuine interest in public life. He is, in fact, both more politically savvy than his predecessors and more politically adept at winning. The two traits have been closely linked in this case because of Xi’s role as party chief, in which he often acts as a mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party and for its ideals, as well as for his position as president.
Xi’s ascent to the presidency was not as a result of the great ideological battles fought in the early 1990s between the rival camps of “reform and opening” versus “reform and reform,” or between the advocates of the rule of law and market fundamentalism. Rather, Xi won in the first round because the Chinese people were enthused by his charm and by his reputation for having been part of China’s democratic revolution in the late 1970s. The president’s personal appeal was bolstered by the high approval rating of the party and by good poll numbers. When Hu Jintao was president, the party had a mere 39 percent approval rating. In 2012, it had a 67 percent approval rating. Xi’s rating is higher still.