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Chinese Officials Risk Public Confidence in Xi Jinping Mystery

Author: Colonel Brian M. Killough, USAF, Military Fellow, U.S. Air Force
September 13, 2012
Council on Foreign Relations

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This is a guest post by CFR Military Fellow, Colonal Brian M. Killough, USAF, on the blog, "Asia Unbound."

The approaching change in leadership from President Hu Jintao to Vice President Xi Jinping seemed to be going smoothly until the vice president started missing high-level meetings. Since then, rumors have been flying over the causes for the missed meetings. These rumors include a back injury, a car wreck, a heart attack, and a minor stroke. On the other hand, another source claims that Xi Jinping is in good health but is "orchestrating unprecedented political reforms." Regardless of the real reason, Internet access and a burgeoning middle class have ensured that there is a substantial demand for information, government accountability, and transparency from the Chinese population.

In Chinese culture, citizens are expected to be loyal to their government, but there is also reciprocity expected from the nation's leaders. The "Mandate of Heaven" is an ancient and well understood cultural philosophy in China that posits, among other things, the emperor's (leader's) virtue determines his right to rule, and no one dynasty (party) has a permanent right to rule. In the months leading up to the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CCP), we have seen the scandal surrounding Bo Xilai and his wife's conviction in the murder of businessman Neil Heywood, earthquakes, and mine disasters. More recently, the dispute with Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands has angered Chinese citizens and could lead them to perceive the government as weak. In a time when party officials would desire to make this generational leadership transition seamless and sure, the feeling from Beijing is anything but harmonious.

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