Worth takes a look back at the president of China’s path to power, the power play that landed him at the top of 2017’s Power 100 list and where he is now.
Published on August 12, 2019
Xi Jinping. Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images. Graphic by Amy Petriello
The president of China topped the Power 100 list in 2017. Here, Worth looks back at Xi Jinping’s path to power, the power play that landed him in the top spot and where he is now.
What We Said Then
Path to Power: Xi, 64, grew up in a family committed to the Communist Party; his father was a revolutionary who eventually became vice premier. Xi himself has spent more than four decades in the party, becoming familiar with every nook and cranny of the Chinese state apparatus, and rising to chairman in 2012. In 2013, he became president of the country. Xi is deft at dispatching his enemies, taking action in a quiet and deliberate way. He’s also an accomplished diplomat and has cultivated many friends, both in emerging economies and, increasingly, in the developed world as well.
Power Play: As the United States has stepped back from global leadership, particularly in Asia and the Pacific, China is quickly filling the void. From deploying his nation’s massive economic resources through foreign infrastructure projects to launching new aircraft carriers, Xi has literally begun projecting Chinese power into new places. Within months of President Trump’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, China initiated trade talks with the other member nations as well as South Korea. Similarly, when Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, Xi raised a potent call for global cooperation on climate change, warning about a risk to the global economy. And in response to rumblings of a trade war between China and the United States, Xi addressed the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, saying that “protectionism is like locking oneself in a dark room. Wind and rain may be kept outside, but so are light and air.” In a bizarre but profound shift, Xi, a Communist with autocratic tendencies and an iron grip on domestic power, has become the global voice of free trade and international cooperation.
Where Xi is Now
Political life has gotten even more complicated for Xi in the past two years. While President Trump’s tariffs on Chinese goods are hurting American consumers, farmers and manufacturers, they’re making life uncomfortable for Xi as well. The same holds for Trump’s push to ban Chinese tech giant Huawei from any commercial relations with the United States. Both phenomena are not only affecting U.S.-China relations and the Chinese economy; they’re creating rumblings globally. To protect themselves against tariffs, many American firms are moving manufacturing from China to other Asian nations, while global tech firms are jumping to fill the Huawei vacuum. Diplomatically, Xi is still pushing outward, positioning himself as a diplomatic broker between Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. But his internal challenges are growing.