Chinese VP Meets With Biden

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Melissa Block talks to NPR correspondent Anthony Kuhn about Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping. Vice President Joe Biden is meeting with him in Beijing Thursday, and the two men are expected to spend quite a bit of time together in the next few days. It's an opportunity for the U.S. government to get better acquainted with the man who will likely be the next president of China. Xi is sometimes referred to as a "red princeling," a senior party official whose parents were revolutionaries under Mao Zedong.

MELISSA BLOCK, host: Joe Biden is on his first trip to East Asia as vice president. He's meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping. Biden is trying to build some personal rapport with the man who's expected to take over next year as China's top leader. NPR's longtime Beijing correspondent Anthony Kuhn joins me now. And, Anthony, there are a lot of questions about this next presumed leader, Xi Jinping.

ANTHONY KUHN: Indeed. Xi Jinping is expected to be China's leader from 2012 to 2022, 10 years there. And yet, it's very hard to get a sense of what he thinks and, you know, what he stands for because they're in a middle of a succession process. And that requires any Chinese leader who's been waiting in the wings for power for a long time not to stick out, not to make any egregious comments that will derail his succession. And indeed, you know, Xi has been to the United States before, and people did not really get a sense of who he was, but he will go off the beaten track with Biden and go to Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province. They're going to try to bond over an informal meal of Sichuan cuisine. Then, Biden is going to go with Xi to a high school that collapsed during the 2008 earthquake.

BLOCK: Anthony, what can you tell us about Xi Jinping's background and any sense that he has any sort of reformist tilt.

KUHN: Well, there were no indications from his personal comments that he's in favor of more democracy in China yet. There are elements in his background that suggest that he might be in favor of such reforms, and one of the main ones is his father.

KUHN: Xi Zhongxun was a veteran of The Long March in the 1930s and the veterans of that were generally key people, key revolutionaries in the Communist Party. His father, you know, fell out of favor with Chairman Mao in the 1960s, was sent to work in a factory, later went to jail. Again, fell into disfavor after 1989 when he opposed the use of the military to crack down on prodemocracy protestors in Tiananmen Square.

BLOCK: So that's the father. What about the son?

KUHN: Well, another interesting thing about the son is that he has a law degree. He also has an engineering degree, but most of the people older than him, people like current president, Hu Jintao, have engineering degrees. There are not many people with humanist backgrounds.

Also, Xi Jinping has a daughter who's studying at Harvard and his wife was, at one point, more famous than he was. She is a folk singer with an army song and dance troop and was probably more of a household name than him until recently.

BLOCK: What about Xi's public remarks? Any clues there to his thinking?

KUHN: Well, there are many remarks that people point to. Let's listen to some tape of remarks he made at the Chinese Embassy in Mexico City in 2009, which a lot of people were quite surprised to hear.

(SOUNDBITE OF XI JINPING SPEAKING)

KUHN: What he says is that there are a few well-fed and idle foreigners who make unwarranted criticisms of China. He says that we don't export revolution. We don't export hunger or poverty and we don't jerk you around, so what else is there to say?

Now, this was such an unscripted, off the cuff sounding remark that people were quite surprised. He's essentially saying that what happens within China's borders is not foreigners' business to criticize.

He's also raised some eyebrows by saying that the Korean War was a great victory in pursuit of world peace. And he's also indicated that he wants a lower key sort of Chinese official who talks straighter and uses less jargon. So we can expect continuation of the sort of populist streak we've been seeing from past Chinese leaders.

BLOCK: NPR's longtime Beijing correspondent, Anthony Kuhn. Anthony, thanks very much.

KUHN: Thank you, Melissa.

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