[PODCAST REVIEW] Breaking the Narrative on Xi Jinping

[PODCAST REVIEW] Breaking the Narrative on Xi Jinping
Photo Credit: AP/Jason Lee/達志影像

What you need to know

Just how powerful is Xi?

Co-hosted by Kaiser Kuo and Jeremy Goldkorn, the Sinica podcast is already well-known among China watchers. One recent episode takes things to a new level with an insightful interview on a matter of great importance in China.

The pair’s discussion with Cheng Li (李成) sees Li question the current narrative on Xi Jinping’s (習近平) so-called consolidation of power.

Li, a distinguished academic and writer, is currently director of the John L. Thornton China Center and a senior fellow in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution.

Xi’s micromanagement – he is in charge of four key government working groups among other roles – is not a sign of strength, but a sign of weakness, Li says. He points to Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平), who in his final years, while only officially serving as chairman of the China Bridge Association, remained in charge of China, as an example of someone who did not need titles or committee positions to rule.

Li also proposes that for Xi there may be a "double-edged sword"; while he enjoys significant control, he may find himself held responsible if key areas like the economy do not perform.

The academic further challenges the view that Xi’s apparent dominance equates the end of collective leadership in China. He says a range of mechanisms – leader term-limits, power sharing and regional representation – are probably more enduring than analysts realize. And he doubts whether Xi, who assumed office in November 2012, will maintain control after he is due to step down in 2022.

Li’s insights into the balance between princelings – sons of China’s revolutionary leaders – and the more grassroots Communist Youth League is also interesting for anyone trying to understand the competing forces in Chinese politics and how they may play out in future.

Sinica is consistently interesting and its back catalogue of episodes is extremely helpful for any followers and newcomers to Chinese society and politics. While always informative, this episode takes a welcome veer toward a more adversarial radio-style interview, with the hosts pushing Li more than once with questions about the rule of law in China.

First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole


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