Sunday, March 17, 2013

Xi Jinping brushes up on his Russian

Apparently, the new Chinese President, Xi Jinping, has been brushing up on his Russian grammar and reciting Russian poetry before a small circle of associates as part of his preparations to visit Moscow.

According to John Garnaut, one of the leader's close associates happens to be an aide to a childhood friend, Li Xiaolin, who runs a quasi-official diplomatic organization. The aide has been shuttling back and forth between Beijing and Moscow to help clear the way for a huge new oil and gas supply deal.

As Garnaut points out, Li Xiaolin's father was the revolutionary leader, Li Xiannian, who worked closely with Xi's father when they were both vice-premiers in the 1950s, a time of close links between China and the then Soviet Union. And Li Xiannian helped the young Xi Jinping and his family in the turbulent times that followed.

Such family links clearly play a very important part in contemporary Chinese politics, and Xi's network of contacts enables him to circumvent the often sclerotic Communist Party bureaucracy in order to get things done.

Garnaut talks about a 'red aristocracy', and the signs are that its influence is increasing. Last year (drawing on another Garnaut article) I alluded to the ideologically and culturally influential – though largely oppositional – role played by children of former prominent Communist Party members. One organization, the Children of Yan'an Fellowship, has a history of railing against an erosion of moral values which they see as being strongly associated with China's shift towards Western-style capitalism.

In a surprise move, this group recently threw its support behind the new Chinese leader. Not surprisingly, there are concerns in the West that Chinese conservatives – whose views are more in line with the style of authoritarian state capitalism developing in Russia than with a Western open markets model – are gaining the ascendency.

Recent initiatives from both Moscow and Beijing seem to point to the prospect of the two giant neighbours becoming closer politically and increasingly interdependent from an economic point of view.

Clearly, if these initiatives prove successful, they could have significant geo-political and ideological implications.