Xi Jinping’s leadership has been marked by ambiguity and unpredictability. Since becoming general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in 2012, he has pursued fragile balances: portraying himself as inheritor of the legacies of both Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping; consolidating power based on both his communist “red nobility” and his understanding of “ordinary people”; promoting market reform in some ways while asserting greater state control in others; and offering contradictory clues as to whether China seeks to be a revisionist power or to preserve the status quo in the post-Cold War international order. It is hardly surprising that public judgments of Xi Jinping within China and overseas are so strikingly different.
In ruling the world’s most populous country, full of divergent views and conflicting interests, Xi has likely realized the imperative of maximizing public support by aligning with diverse constituencies and socioeconomic trends. This paper focuses on Xi Jinping’s two most recent parallel domestic policy moves: shifting his identity from a princeling to a populist by launching an ambitious program for poverty elimination on the one hand, and enlarging the country’s largest metropolis clusters for economic growth on the other.
Given Xi’s role at the epicenter of these developments, making sense of the prospects for a global China requires a careful assessment of this goal-oriented leader — his political objectives and standing, his prioritization of domestic issues and their linkages to external pressures, the scale and scope of his proposed changes, and the likelihood of success or failure of his highly consequential moves. This empirical analysis contributes to a more comprehensive and balanced understanding of this compelling Chinese leader, and thus will help policymakers in Washington and elsewhere avoid miscalculations, overreactions, or underestimations of Xi’s power.