FILE -- President Barack Obama, right, shakes hands with Xi Jinping in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, Feb. 14, 2012. Xi, who is set to be elevated to the top post of the Chinese Communist Party on Nov. 8, will take the helm of a more confident China than the United States has ever known at a time when relations between the two countries are adrift.

Doug Mills, Nyt - Nyt

New day dawning for U.S., China

  • Article by: JANE PERLEZ
  • New York Times
  • November 3, 2012 - 6:50 PM


BEIJING - On one of his many visits abroad in recent years, Xi Jinping, the presumptive new leader of China, met in 2009 with Chinese residents in Mexico City, where in a relaxed atmosphere he indirectly criticized the United States.

"There are a few foreigners, with full bellies, who have nothing better to do than try to point fingers at our country," Xi said, according to a tape broadcast. "China does not export revolution, hunger, poverty, nor does China cause you any headaches. Just what else do you want?"

Xi, who is set to be elevated to the top post of the Chinese Communist Party at the 18th Party Congress scheduled to begin on Thursday -- only two days after the U.S. election -- will take the helm of a more confident China than the United States has ever known. He will be assuming supreme power in China at a time when relations between the two countries are adrift, sullied by suspicions over a clash of interests in Asia and by frequent attacks on China in the U.S. presidential campaign.

In the past four months, China has forged an aggressive, more nationalistic posture in Asia that may set the tone for Xi's expected decade-long tenure, analysts and diplomats say, pushing against U.S. allies, particularly Japan, for what China considers its territorial imperatives.

The son of a revolutionary general, Xi, 59, boasts far closer ties to China's fast-growing military than the departing leader, Hu Jintao, had when he took office. As Xi rose through the ranks of the Communist Party, he made the most of parallel posts in the People's Liberation Army (PLA), deeply familiarizing himself with the inner workings of the armed forces.

A formidable force

Even if Xi does not immediately become head of the crucial Central Military Commission as well as party leader, he will almost certainly do so within two years, giving him at least eight years as the direct overseer of the military.

This combination of political power as head of the Communist Party and good relations with a more robust military could make Xi a formidable leader for Washington to contend with, analysts and diplomats in China and the U.S. say.

"The basic question is whether Xi will suspend the drift in the U.S.-China relationship and take concrete steps to put it on a more positive footing -- or will he put it on a different, more confrontational track?" said Christopher Johnson, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and a former China analyst at the CIA.

The answer appears to lie somewhere in between.

In a speech in Washington in February, Xi said that China and the U.S. should forge a "new type of relationship between major countries in the 21st century." He offered little specificity beyond respect for each side's "core interests and major concerns," "increasing mutual understanding and strategic trust" and "enhancing cooperation."

But essentially, said Jin Canrong, a professor at the School of International Studies at Renmin University in Beijing, Xi was challenging the global leadership of the United States by suggesting that Washington needs to make room for China's rising power. Jin predicted that the Chinese economy would continue to grow at a much faster pace than the United States'.

Military posturing

One of the big changes from the past decade, when China's foreign policy was focused on securing raw materials from abroad for its soaring domestic economy, will be a stronger emphasis on building up the military to protect China's interests in Asia and expand its reach abroad. Xi is perfectly positioned to take on that role.

"The PLA considers he is their man," said Jin.

Xi will be in charge of a military whose budget almost certainly will grow at a pace with the economy, or even faster. The PLA is awaiting an array of sophisticated weaponry now under development, including space and long-range missiles capable of use against U.S. aircraft carriers in the Pacific and Indian oceans. The question is how it plans to exploit them.

When Xi met with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in Beijing in September, he delivered "an earful," and left the unmistakable message that the United States should stay out of the way in the standoff between Japan and China over claims to the disputed islands.

Many see that as a harbinger of an effort by Xi over the next decade to increase the power and presence of China in Asia, a region where the United States has held the upper hand since the end of World War II.

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