Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Wikileaks revealing insight into Chinese Leadership

This was from yesterday's WSJ but it's an interesting peek into the worlds of Xi Linping and Li Keqiang - China's new generation of leaders.

Loved the bit about Chinese GDP figures being "man-made"...

BEIJING—Leaked U.S. diplomatic cables are shedding rare light on the personalities and opinions of Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang—the men tipped as China's next president and premier, respectively—while also revealing a surprising level of openness in their past dealings with the U.S. Embassy.

Some of the latest batch of cables published by the WikiLeaks website contain rare detailed accounts of separate meetings in 2007 between the two future Chinese leaders and Clark T. Randt Jr., then the U.S. ambassador in Beijing.

Although the cables are three years old, the level of detail in them could still embarrass Messrs. Xi and Li, and discourage other leaders from talking openly with U.S. officials, especially in the run-up to a once-a-decade Communist Party leadership change due in 2012.

Hu Jintao, China's president and party chief, is expected to retire along with seven other members of the party's nine-man Politburo Standing Committee—its top decision-making body—but precious little is known about the personal views of the people expected to replace them.

One cable reveals that Mr. Xi, now vice president, is a fan of Hollywood movies about World War II, including "Saving Private Ryan," but dislikes Chinese historical kung-fu dramas such as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," and "Curse of the Golden Flower."

"Americans have a clear outlook on values and clearly demarcate between good and evil," Mr. Xi is quoted as saying. "In American movies, good usually prevails. … Some Chinese movie makers neglect values they should promote."

According to the cable, Mr. Xi also enjoyed "The Departed" and had a DVD copy of "Flags of Our Fathers," which he was hoping to watch soon.

On politics, Mr. Xi admits that people are unhappy with the working style of government and party officials, but says it shouldn't be surprising that among the party's 70 million members, "several thousand may be problem cases," according to the cable.

"For the present, people will not take to the streets to complain about officials' work styles," he is quoted as saying. "While there are many problem makers in the Party, the Party also counts among its members the elite of society."

He expresses strong support for private businessmen, as well as concerns about illegal financial activities among the rich, and the income disparity between the prosperous east and the relatively undeveloped western hinterland.

He also says that on a visit to the U.S. in 2006, he and other Chinese officials were worried about being served with legal papers in relation to cases brought by followers of the Falun Gong movement, which is banned in China.

Mr. Randt wrote the cable after having dinner with Mr. Xi at the ambassador's residence in Beijing when Mr. Xi was Communist Party chief in the eastern province of Zhejiang. Seven months later, Mr. Xi was promoted to the party's Standing Committee.

Mr. Xi's status as heir apparent was confirmed in October when he was appointed vice chairman of the Central Military Commission—a key military post seen as a stepping stone to the top party and government posts.

The night after meeting Mr. Xi, Ambassador Randt also had dinner at the residence with Li Keqiang, who was then Party chief in the northeastern province of Liaoning, but is now a vice premier and a member of the standing committee.

That cable quotes Mr. Li saying gross domestic product figures from China's local governments are "man-made" and therefore unreliable—a stunningly candid admission for the man tipped to take over the reins of the economy from Premier Wen Jiabao.

He expresses strong support for free trade and the rule of law, as well as concern about income disparities within Liaoning, and pride over a project that moved 1.2 million slum dwellers into government-subsidized housing, according to the cable.

"Although Liaoning residents are dissatisfied with education, health care and housing issues, it is corruption that makes them most angry," he is quoted as saying.

Mr. Li also admitted to sometimes relying on friends to gather information that he could not obtain for himself through official channels, and suggested that there is substantial internal debate about Chinese legislation.

"People don't see the behind-the-scenes reviews and feedback session that result in the original drafts of the bills being altered substantially before passage," he is quoted as saying.

The cable describes him as "engaging and well informed" with a "good sense of humor," but "coy about his hobbies and interests," although he admitted that he liked walking and built it into his schedule.

He also said he particularly enjoyed visiting Oklahoma on his last visit to the U.S. in 2001, according to the cable.

The two dinner meetings are certain to have been approved by the Party and both men will have chosen their words carefully, both to reflect the Party line and to be polite to their host.

But the details of their private conversations are still potentially embarrassing, as they reveal a far greater degree of openness than is usually conveyed by China's tightly controlled state media, which is often fiercely critical of the U.S.

Even if the cables don't precisely reflect the two Chinese leaders' personal opinions, they do shed light on how the U.S. government perceives them.

Another cable from Ambassador Randt in April 2008 quotes "embassy contacts" saying President Hu was "firmly in charge" of China's policies in Tibet following unrest there the previous month.

Despite reports of a possible split within the leadership over Tibet policy, no standing committee member had sufficient stature to challenge Mr. Hu, who served as party chief in Tibet in the late 1980s, that cable says.

Yet another cable from the embassy, dated July last year, describes the Standing Committee as being increasingly motivated by a desire to forge consensus and protect vested interests among its members and their families.

It quotes an unnamed contact saying there was "no reform wing" within a leadership that had carved up China's "economic pie," "creating an ossified system in which 'vested interests' drove decision-making and impeded reform."

Some policies, such as those on Taiwan and North Korea, had to be decided by the full 25-member Politburo, the cable said, quoting "embassy contacts with access to leadership circles."

China has declined to comment on specific cables, but said Tuesday it hoped the leaks would not affect ties with the U.S.

Washington has also declined to comment on the leaked cables' contents, while denouncing their release as a crime.

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