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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Who is Xi Jinping?

June 17, 2010

By Simon Bradshaw
ON LINE Opinion (Australia)
June 16, 2010

Type "Obama" and "Australia" into Google and we
find literally hundreds of articles discussing
the US President’s twice-postponed visit to our
shores. By contrast, barring Rowan Callick’s
short piece in The Australian on Monday, we are
hard pushed to find anything previewing the
arrival this weekend of Xi Jinping, a man set to
become the most powerful individual in our region, perhaps even the world.

Granted, unless you are one of 700,000-odd
Chinese Australians, Xi Jinping is not a
household name in Australia. But nor is he a
relatively obscure rising Chinese official or a
mere hot tip for future political stardom. In
2012 he will almost certainly succeed Hu Jintao
as president of our biggest trading partner and
the next global superpower. When he arrives in
Melbourne on Saturday (June 19), authorities will
be rolling out one of the largest security
operations the city has ever put in place for a visiting dignitary.

Following the pattern of other recent visits by
Chinese leaders, few details of his itinerary are
yet public. We know the centrepiece is a large
business forum in the Great Hall of Parliament
House on Monday (June 21). Beyond that, it is
rumoured he will address students in Melbourne,
visit mining sites in the Northern Territory and
sign an agreement between the Australia National
University and the Communist Party’s Central
Party School (the training ground for party officials).

Analysts say the visit will focus on restoring
political trust, deepening economic ties and, in
particular, ease future investment in Australian
resources. Unlike during visits of senior
Australian officials to China, it is highly
unlikely that he will give a media conference. He
will no doubt meet the Prime Minister in Canberra
but whether he will interact with the Parliament,
or indeed lay himself open to scrutiny at all, will have to be seen.

Born in 1953 in Beijing, Xi Jinping is the son of
former Vice Premier Xi Zhongxun, a Communist
Party hero. He is the top-ranking member of the
Communist Party secretariat, China's Vice
President, Principal of the Central Party School
and the sixth ranked member of the Politburo
Standing Committee (China's de facto top power
organ). He has one of the highest profiles of
China's leaders and, like Hu Jintao in the run-up
to his presidency, is currently doing a lot of
international travel. This week alone he will
visit Bangladesh, Laos, New Zealand and Australia.

Understandably, few are watching Xi Jinping’s
rise more closely than the Tibetans. Hu Jintao,
the current president, was formerly the party
chief of the Tibet Autonomous Region. In 1989 he
approved the use of lethal force against
protestors in Lhasa, asked Beijing to declare
martial law and presided over one of the darkest
periods in Tibet’s modern history. Following the
Tiananmen Square massacre, a mere three months
later, Hu was one of the first regional leaders
to declare his support for the central authorities.

Sadly, one does not rise to the pinnacle of the
Chinese Communist Party by being soft on Tibet,
on pro-democracy, or any issue that might
challenge the party’s legitimacy. Xi Jinping too
has made his mark through a series of tough
assignments. He was put in charge of preparations
for the 2008 Beijing Olympics as well as last
year’s 60th anniversary of the founding of the
PRC. He is the party’s leading figure in the affairs of Hong Kong and Macau.

Tibetans have scoured Xi Jinping’s past for signs
that he may bring a shift away from Beijing’s
increasingly hardline policies on Tibet and
towards a peacefully negotiated settlement with
the Tibetan people. Intriguingly, Xi Jinping’s
father was an interlocutor for the Dalai Lama's
Special Envoy Lodi Gyari in the 1980s and
apparently carried a photo of the Dalai Lama.
Prior to that he had some association with the
10th Panchen Lama, Tibet’s second most important religious leader.

It may be wishful thinking that such links would
have any real bearing on Xi Jinping’s Tibet
stance. But importantly, whatever Xi Jinping’s
views on Tibet may be, they carry implications
not only for the six million Tibetans but also
for the peace and stability of China and for the broader region.

While recently overshadowed in the Australian
media by the Stern Hu case, the visit of Rebiya
Kadeer, the failed Chinalco bid and Google’s
challenges to China’s Internet censorship,
Beijing itself has elevated Tibet to a “core
issue” both domestically and in its relationship
with foreign powers, according it at least equal importance to Taiwan.

Tibet is situated between India and China, for
centuries a buffer between the two rising giants
of Asia. It is the source of almost all Asia’s
great rivers and China’s near catastrophic
environmental mismanagement of the Tibetan
Plateau may hold grave consequences for the
populous countries downstream. Recent policy
failures, in particular the heavy-handed response
to 2008’s unrest, have fanned ethnic tensions and
remain a constant threat to stability.

Few issues are as critical to peace and security
in China than Tibet. And barring perhaps climate
change, given our present course few variables
will determine Australia’s long-term economic
health more than China’s stability and prosperity.

The chances of Kevin Rudd pushing Xi Jinping on
Tibet in private, let alone in public, may be
thin. Indeed, the visit has already been hailed
as a sign that "relations are thawing" following
last year’s spate of derailments. That said, the
Prime Minister would do well to recall a
statement from his party’s own manifesto:
"Effective human rights diplomacy supports
international and regional security and is in Australia’s national interest."

Dr Simon Bradshaw is the Campaign Coordinator for
the Australia Tibet Council. He has previously
worked on environment and development projects in
Australia, India and on his home island of
Guernsey. In 2007 he completed a four-year
research project on the traditional relationship
between the land and people of Tibet. Simon now
campaigns fulltime for the human rights and
democratic freedoms of the Tibetan people.
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