PHOTOS 5 Fun Facts About China’s Leader-to-Be That You Won’t Hear on His U.S. Visit
The news of the Chinese vice president’s trip to the U.S. will be full of information about trade deficits, human rights abuses, Tibet, and foreign intervention in Syria—but in the crush of news, these fascinating facts about China’s leader-to-be should not be overlooked.
Martin H. Simon / EPA-Landov
Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping arrived in Washington, D.C., today, eager to show the world—and his fellow commissars back home—that he's got what it takes to manage the crucial Sino-U.S. relationship and stay on top of things in China. During Xi's trip, we'll hear a lot about Beijing's reprehensible crackdown on Tibetans and dissidents, pesky bilateral trade issues, and why China sides with status-quo autocracies when the international community wants to intervene in nations such as Syria or Iran. But there are an equal number of things you likely didn't know about China's leader-to-be Xi and his U.S. trip. Here's a gallery of surprises:
1. The Arm Candy Stays at Home
Xi's mission in the U.S. is to burnish his credentials as China's leader-to-be. But you won't see his most potent secret weapon: wife and celebrity folk singer Peng Liyuan, who holds the rank of major general in the People's Liberation Army. (Peng is Xi's second wife.) Arguably more famous in China than her husband, Peng has appeared onstage in glittering TV galas clad in elaborate costumes, from stunning ballgowns to construction workers' gear replete with hard hat. Perhaps to ensure Xi isn't eclipsed by Peng while he consolidates power, she's assumed a much lower-profile than in years past. Recently in Beijing, DVD's showing some of her more extravagant singing performances became unavailable for sale "because they're politically sensitive," confided one vendor. In other words, Peng's dazzling star power is being purposely dimmed down. She stayed in China during Xi's current trip; nobody wants her high-wattage beauty to outshine Xi on what's intended to be a weighty and momentously historic U.S. visit.
Lan Hongguang / Xinhua-Landov 2. A Man of the World, and a Good Sport
Xi Jinping has an unusually international background for a top Chinese leader. His sister lives in Canada. His only daughter, Xi Mingze, enrolled at Harvard (using a pseudonym) in 2010. His first wife, the daughter of a former Chinese ambassador to the United Kingdom, lives in Britain. Xi himself likes watching Western films; favorites include
Saving Private Ryan and The Departed. Xi's also a fan of international sports, especially soccer; while visiting California on his current trip, Xi might pop into an L.A. Lakers game. The Chinese vice president is extremely popular among Taiwanese business executives; he met many during postings in the coastal provinces of Fujian and Zhejiang and was golfing buddies with a now-retired senior Taiwan cabinet minister. Beijing's party line on Taiwan is a tough one: the island is a maverick province which must be reunited with the mainland, by force if necessary. But in contrast to his government's harsh rhetoric, Xi seems more the type to talk peace at the 19th hole. 3. At Home Down on the Farm
In addition to stops in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles, Xi is travelling to Iowa. Muscatine, Iowa. And he's been there before. Xi visited Iowa and stayed with an American family when he went abroad for the first time in April 1985, to study hog-farming techniques. (Pigs aren't alien to Xi. As a teen, he was dispatched to a rural Chinese village to work alongside the peasants; there he introduced villagers to a device that extracted fuel from pig manure.) Startlingly, even Xi's father has been to Iowa; the late Xi Zhongxun, a former vice premier, was the mastermind of China's wildly successful 1980s experiment with quasi-capitalist “special economic zones.” The elder Xi went to Iowa in 1980 on a U.S. trip meant to promote China's then-new economic reforms; his delegation visited a John Deere factory and (surprise) a pig farm. Xi Zhongxun also stopped in Hawaii, where he was persuaded to wear a grass skirt and “shake his bottom a bit” in a rendition of the hula, according to Jan Berris, vice president of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, who accompanied Xi senior's delegation. Xi junior won't go quite that far, according to informed sources. We'll probably see him in situations that are more politically correct. Signing a soybean deal, say, or posing with an American tractor. And in D.C., Xi junior will be presented with a photo album of his father's U.S. trip.
4. Addressing the 'Trust Deficit' and Warding Off a New 'Cold War'
Xi's U.S. journey is intended to address a “trust deficit” between the two countries, said Chinese vice foreign minister Cui Tiankai: “The level of mutual trust between China and the United States is lagging behind what is required for the further expansion of our bilateral relationship.” This gap exacerbates a whole raft of Sino-U.S. headaches. The U.S. wants China to remove hurdles to U.S. investment, purchase more American imports, and allow its currency or yuan to strengthen against the greenback. Beijing wants Washington to stop sniping about China's opposition to Western intervention in Syria, stay out of maritime disputes in the South China Sea, and shut up regarding Beijing's patchy human-rights record. Against this backdrop of mutual wariness, Beijing's military brass is especially jittery about President Barack Obama's refocusing of policy attention on the Pacific, after bruising wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Obama's November 2011 unveiling of a nine-nation Pacific free-market zone that excluded China—plus his statement that “The U.S. is a Pacific power and we're here to stay”—were seen as a challenge by Chinese hawks, who accuse Washington hardliners of a "Cold War" mentality.
5. Scandal Back Home
One Sino-U.S. topic which Xi is probably not going to dwell on much with his American hosts is why China's erstwhile top cop Wang Lijun spent more than 24 hours at the U.S. consulate in Chengdu last week, as a huge number of Chinese security personnel, some of them armed, swarmed near the diplomatic facility. Apparently Wang, a flamboyant crimebuster and Chongqing's deputy mayor in charge of public security,
attempted to seek U.S. asylum after a rift with his long-time mentor, Chongqing's ambitious Communist Party Secretary Bo Xilai. After a number of tense hours, Wang left the consulate "of his own volition," said the State Department, which has refused to comment further. From there he was whisked off to Beijing, Why is this relevent to Xi? When a huge reshuffle of top party posts takes place this autumn, seven of China's nine most powerful positions—the slots on the Politburo standing committee—are slated to change hands. Xi is expected to become No. 1, but his ability to rule effectively will depend heavily on whether he can insert his allies into other key slots. Bo was not Xi's ally, but he's lobbied blatantly for promotion to the Politburo standing committee. Now, as the Wang Lijun scandal mushrooms, Bo's under a cloud. And what of the once-celebrated mafia buster, Wang Lijun? Beijing's government line is that he's undergoing "vacation-style [medical] treatment"—an Orwellian phrase that sent cynical Chinese bloggers howling. Most likely he's cloistered in the Communist Party's cushy version of Club Fed, as interrogators of the party's watchdog Discipline Inspection Commission begin a probe which could have explosive political repercussions.