China's new boss Xi hits nationalist note with talk of "revival"

Thu Dec 6, 2012 4:01pm EST
 
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By John Ruwitch

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - In his first three weeks as China's Communist Party boss, Xi Jinping has shown himself to be more confident, direct and relaxed than his predecessor - but also quick to invoke nationalistic themes to win public support and legitimacy.

He has at least twice spoken publicly, and in heroic terms, about national "rejuvenation" and the "revival of the Chinese nation". The phrase has been uttered by all of Xi's predecessors as party boss, but his frequent usage so early in his tenure is intended to "create cohesion" through nationalism, said Li Weidong, a political commentator and former magazine editor.

Political observers say the language Xi has used is mainly intended for domestic political consumption, but it has come at an awkward time for China internationally: tensions with its neighbors in the South and East China Seas have increased since Xi became general secretary of the Communist Party last month.

On Thursday, China told Vietnam to stop unilateral oil exploration in contested areas of the South China Sea and not harass Chinese fishing boats, the latest rhetorical shot at one of its neighbors as a result of the territorial disputes.

The ratcheting up of tensions derive in part from two recent changes in Chinese policy related to the region: the issuance of new passports that display a disputed map of the South China Sea, and new provincial regulations which appear to give maritime authorities broad discretion to board or detain foreign vessels operating in what China claims are its own waters.

Both of those policies predate Xi's ascension to party secretary, but they have emerged at the same time that his rhetoric about national "rejuvenation" is raising eyebrows - if not yet outright alarm - among China's neighbors.

"It hasn't gone unnoticed, and the timing hasn't necessarily been ideal," said a senior Western diplomat in China, speaking of Xi's recent rhetoric.

Xi mentioned "rejuvenation" in his first remarks after becoming party chief on November 15, and then again in a scripted appearance last week with the rest of the new seven-man Politburo Standing Committee on a visit to an exhibit entitled "The Road Toward Renewal" at the National Museum of China.   Continued...

 
China's newly appointed leader Xi Jinping gestures as he attends a meeting with a panel of foreign experts at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing December 5, 2012. REUTERS/Ed Jones/Pool