Xi gives season’s greetings from his not-so-oval office

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Chinese president Xi gave his New Year’s greetings speech from his office, instead of from a podium like his predecessors,  the first time as many can remember. The place of the speech, instead of the neatly scripted content,became the focus of media and analysts. State media even made out what’s in the pictures on the bookshelves behind him.  Indeed, from reining in on governmental corruption (most recently Sichuan’s party leader) and unnecessary spending, to proposals of loosening up on the nation’s one child policy, Xi has exhibited signs of transparency and reform since the start of his tenure.

Xi has assumed more power than the country’s previous leaders, first being the consolidated power of party, state and military, which had been traditionally held on by previous leaders for a certain period of time even after new presidents have come in. Xi is now also gradually taking on the economic power, a duty that traditionally belongs to the country’s premier, now Li Keqiang. Xi is said to be behind the economic reform plan dished out at the Third Plenum that includes plans to grant farmers more rights and financial reforms such as the possibility of establishing municipal bond markets. Xi also presents himself to the outside as the country’s money leader, as he held dinner with British Prime Minister David Cameron during his visit to China this month when billions of Pounds worth of deals were signed. This defied customs since Cameron is not his country’s No.1 leader. Li’s meeting with Cameron was dialed down to only a lunch.

Xi addresses the nation from his never-seen-by-public office. Photo credit: CCTV.

Xi addresses the nation from his never-seen-by-public office. Photo credit: news.cn.

This president for sure boosted the nation’s confidence and pride when he directed military moves around the conflict Diaoyu island zone with Japan. The dispatch of an aircraft carrier, Liaoning, and the close passing-by an American cruiser was probably one of the boldest moves the Chinese leadership has taken defending its claimed territory in recent history.

Despite all signs of advance, Xi still remains conservative on some of the bottom lines that characterize a state rather than a democracy. Foreign journalists from various media outlets couldn’t get their visas renewed (now resolved) after leaks indicating Bloomberg News pulled an investigative story into China’s top leaders’ wealth. An article by the New York Times looking at JP Morgan’s ties with previous premier’s daughter didn’t help the situation either. Britain’s Cameron even protested to Xi about banning a British reporter from attending the news conference during his visit. Chinese leadership needs to realize that unreasonable secrecy and restless attempts to protect reputation don’t go with rapid growth and development of a nation. Citizens need knowledge in order to make informed decisions. It does make sense the leadership doesn’t want the door flung open too wide too fast, but it also needs to give its citizens credit and basic trust, because they will eventually get there, whether by force or by controlled progression.

Shortly before the end of last year, the Ministry of Culture banned an online video game “Battle Field 4” together with all the news reports about the banning of it, citing violent graphics. I can’t really blame the administration for this, given the violent car bombing in the Tian’an men Square earlier and recent unrest in the country’s far west. However, would the banning of an obscure video game really help? Is it worth it to carry yet another mark on forehead for being the stumping and unyielding state force?

Economic advance should and will be the center of this country’s policies and executions in the new year. With a slower GDP growth and decrease in manufacturing, Xi, with the rest of the leadership, faces drastic challenges, boosting domestic consumption, tackling daunting governmental debt and improving the environment, to name a few, and as usual, as the world looks on.

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