An excellent interview with a well-connected American who would like to see the US and China work together, and knows Xi Jinping well, provides some real insight as to why he is a serious leader. Interviewed today by Richard Harman, Tim Groser backs it up.
The full interview is here and it is definitely worth watching. John Thornton is Director of the Global Leadership Program at Beijing’s top Tsinghua University. He was formerly President of Goldman Sachs Asia. the interview was conducted at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Center at Texas University. It’s worth listening to people who have actually met the man.
Arnaud Bertrand has published a Twitter thread that covers all the points made about Xi Jinping. Definitely worth a look. Some of the main ones:
He says, rightly, that the only way one can ever hope to have an impact on China is by building trust (with an interesting personal anecdote of a diner he had with Xi Jinping). China will obviously never listen to someone it is convinced is trying to contain or destroy them.
He also says that Chinese leaders lament that US leadership never actually read or hear what they say, only seeing China through the writings of “China watchers” – like Kevin Rudd – who get China completely wrong. He attributes part of this to China “failing miserably” to communicate to the world media.
One thing he says the West misunderstands about China is its aspirations, which isn’t to have “a Chinese century” but a “century of diverse civilizations, a new era in which there will no longer be a single civilizational hegemon”.
He says the West also dramatically misunderstands the BRI. He reveals – which I think is an exclusive (never heard it before) – that they first proposed to John Kerry to do it jointly with the US, which the US didn’t even want to consider. Later in the video Thornton revealed that Kerry told him that not taking up China’s offer to jointly do the BRI was “the single biggest missed opportunity of my life”.To a typical braindead question that the Chinese are brainwashed and, if only they knew about the world, they’d be “on our side” , Thornton has a masterful reply: “I’ve been teaching at Tsinghua now for 20 years so I know a lot of young Chinese… I don’t know a single one of them who doesn’t know what’s going on in the outside world.”He then gives a bit more insights about the Chinese system and Xi Jinping personally. Here he describes Xi’s incredibly challenging upbringing and how it shaped his convictions: “If you’re Xi Jinping, when he says ‘our single biggest priority is to improve the lives of the ordinary people’, this is a deeply felt, personal, emotional comment. This is not a conceptual comment. Any of the US leaders in my lifetime, none of them lived that life. When they talk about improving the lives of ordinary Americans, this is an intellectual concept.”He says that “when the Chinese government says they’re going to do something, chances are very high they’re going to do it”; painting an interesting comparison between the very aspirational but highly unrealistic US “State of the Union address” and the equivalent in China, the “work report”, “which tells you exactly what they actually did, for real, and what they’re going to do, for real”Lastly, he describes how the Communist Party of China works and the meritocratic nature of it.
As New Zealand’s lead trade negotiator when China joined the World Trade Organization and later as the Key Government’s Trade Minister, Tim Groser made over 50 trips to China, a country he first visited in 1972 as part of a student delegation. He believes that there is a strong personal element in President Xi Jinping’s “Great Rejuvenation.” In 2014 when the President visited New Zealand, Groser escorted him around. When he called at his hotel to pick him up one morning, unprompted, Xi told him how his father, a deputy Premier, had been persecuted and purged during the Cultural Revolution and how he himself spent his teenage years living in a cave.“He told me the story quite dispassionately without emotion,” said Groser. “And I thought to myself, it’s amazing that you would say this to a foreigner straight up just because, by chance, I was in China at the same time as a young man. “This must be central to your whole thought process.” Groser also believes that the impact of the Cultural Revolution’s disorder on Xi and his family has been a major influence in driving not just a rejuvenation of Chinese society and standing in the world but also his abhorrence of disorder and, therefore, his insistence on a strong leadership centred on him.