ASIA NEWS NETWORK
WE KNOW ASIA BETTER
Grading Xi Jinping's first 100 days in office
Publication Date : 20-02-2013
This Friday, Xi Jinping will mark his first 100 days in power as China's supremo since taking over the Communist Party's top positions on Nov 15 last year.
Though there is no practice in China of assessing a new top leader's work, observers say Mr Xi has managed to keep the people generally happy during the honeymoon period.
His penchant for frugality and simplicity, his image as a "man of the people" despite his aristocratic background, and an aggressive anti-corruption stance have helped him win support, they say.
Xi and his team, including incoming Premier Li Keqiang, have also struck the right note with their policy initiatives, including an income-distribution plan with higher taxes for the better-off and more help for the poor and needy.
But observers say Xi has failed to impress on foreign policy, with moves and rhetoric that may have overly stirred nationalistic sentiments and caused concerns among China's neighbours, which could boomerang to hurt him.
Asked to grade Xi on a scale from "A" to "F", Singapore-based observer Li Mingjiang gave him an "A minus". "Xi has done a fairly good job so far. First of all, he has created a new and positive political atmosphere in China," he added.
Professor Li cited Xi's efforts such as cutting back on lavish ceremonies and receptions for officials, encouraging local governments to be less wasteful, and taking tougher steps against graft.
His moves in highlighting the importance of military build-up, emphasising the continuity of reforms, and trying to chart a middle-of-the-road ideological approach have also helped him score points, said Prof Li.
Xi got a "B" grade from Nottingham University analyst Steve Tsang, who credits the leader for taking on corruption and abuse of power verbally.
"He has also projected an image of taking these issues seriously by appointing Wang Qishan to this portfolio," he added.
Wang, the outgoing Vice-Premier known to be a no-nonsense fire-fighter, was named to the apex Politburo Standing Committee as the new anti-corruption czar amid China's leadership change last November.
But Hong Kong-based analyst Willy Lam gave Xi "a mere pass" - a "D" grade.
He said Xi has been disappointing in not saying much so far about economic and especially political reform, and has also continued the illegal treatment of dissidents such as the house arrest of jailed Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo's wife Liu Xia.
"Since he is only accountable to the 82 million party members, he has fulfilled his primary role of maintaining sociopolitical stability and the Communist Party's monopoly on power," said Professor Lam.
"But for the great majority of Chinese, he hasn't even begun the uphill task of picking up the threads of reform."
Also, analysts say Xi has not done as well in managing China's foreign relations, particularly in its dispute with Japan over an island chain known in Japan as Senkaku and in China as Diaoyu.
"He could have handled the maritime dispute with Japan better, rather than allowing or authorising the escalation to continue, culminating in the use of fire-control radar on a Japanese naval ship and helicopter," said Professor Tsang.
He also questioned the timing of Xi's "prepare for battle" speech last December when he visited troops of the Guangzhou Military Region, and a trip aboard the Haikou destroyer that patrols waters in the disputed South China Sea.
Xi was quoted as saying: "We must insist on using battle-ready standards in undertaking combat preparations, constantly enhancing officers and troops' thinking about serving in battle, and leading troops into battle and training troops for battle."
While it is normal for military forces to prepare for combat, Prof Tsang said Xi "could have made the same point without giving rise to a sense that he had Japan and other neighbours in mind".
Prof Li, who is from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, believes the combative talk was deliberate, with the new leadership deciding to use nationalism as a political tool to enhance national cohesion.
After all, Xi gave a rousing speech last December about the revival of China and its people in his vision of a "China dream" soon after becoming general secretary of the Communist Party and chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission.
But Prof Li thinks such moves could backfire.
"The new leaders' rhetoric of 'China dream' and a strong military does not help build a good image for China in the region and the world," he added.
"The heavy-handed approach to territorial and maritime disputes may not bring about the results that they expect."
In a nutshell, the Chinese people are happy, while other countries are worried.
The real test of Xi's support from the people comes after he assumes the Chinese presidency next month.
It would mark the end of the unofficial honeymoon and the start of rising expectations among the people for substantial policy changes on hot- button issues like graft and rising inflation.
Prof Lam said Xi looks likely to be a stronger supremo than his predecessor Hu Jintao, "who has a weak personality and tended to seek compromises".
Prof Tsang said Xi has shown that his top priority is to keep the party in power by nipping in the bud any movement that may appear to be a challenge.
"He is committed to 'reform' as a process, but prefers not to reveal where reform should lead to eventually," he added. "In other words, reform is just a means to keep the party in power, certainly not to bring China towards democracy."