Xi Jinping Briefing

Pressing questions for China’s president

Listen to the Fairbank Center’s “Xi Jinping Briefing.”

To mark Chinese President Xi Jinping’s first official U.S. visit, the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University held a briefing on China’s President Xi Jinping. In this town-hall style event, our audience anonymously posed questions they would have asked President Xi had he visited Harvard during his U.S. visit.

Below are the questions posed (as well as the corresponding time in the audio recording) and quotes from our panelists.

Panelists from left to right: Professors Mark Elliott (moderator), Ezra Vogel, Meg Rithmire, Ya-Wen Lei, William Kirby

8:04 What does President Xi think of the costs of ‘letting some people get rich first’ (Deng Xiaoping)?

“I think President Xi would say that China is such a huge country, with so many problems , that it was impossible for everybody to get rich right away.” — Ezra Vogel

“China is now almost as unequal as the United States.” — Meg Rithmire

15:56 Mr. President, do you consider yourself a Marxist? What are China’s ultimate values?

“It depends how you define “Marxist.” — Ya-Wen Lei

“When we think about China, you have to remember that there are always a lot of contradictions and contradictory ideas about what is the rule of law, what is democracy, what is justice. The goal is to maintain the political monopoly of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and how to maximize those values like rule of law at the same time as maintaining the CCP’s political monopoly.” — Ya-Wen Lei

“It would be great if President Xi tried to see the emerging public sphere as a value for people to build consensus, rather than seeing public opinion as a threat to the Chinese government.” — Ya-Wen Lei

“There’s a difference between putting [Xi Jinping] on the ‘God Shelf’ and paying attention to him.” — Ezra Vogel

“I asked a senior person at the central party school, ‘Do you guys still read Marx?’ He answered, ‘Of course we do.’ I said, ‘What do you read of Marx?’ and he said ‘I don’t know.’” — William Kirby

Presidents Xi Jinping and Barack Obama, with First ladies Peng Liyuan and Michelle Obama

23:20 What do you think of the U.S.-Japan military alliance, which has recently experienced a drastic change owing to new security bills in Japan?

“The purpose of Xi’s military parade is probably to remind the world that China won [World War Two] and Japan lost.” — William Kirby

“One has to think what the alternative would be without the [U.S.-Japan] alliance… The alliance actually restrains Japan.” — Ezra Vogel

“I think [Xi] would actually like to weaken the U.S.-Japan alliance if he had his druthers.” — Ezra Vogel

28:05 What is the link between President Xi’s anti-graft campaign and China’s slowing economy?

“Although the crash of the stock market is very important to the Chinese economy, it’s not very intimately related to the drivers of economic growth that are most meaningful to the country as a whole and to Chinese families.” — Meg Rithmire

“The best way to not be accused of taking a bribe is to not approve a development project. So in that sense it’s hard to imagine that the anti-graft campaign has not had a chilling effect on growth at the national level.” — Meg Rithmire

“A lot of growth since 2009 has been chilled by policies far outside the realm of anti-corruption.” — Meg Rithmire

“I think that President Xi would say that China is undergoing a necessary ‘re-balancing’, away from export-driven growth that is dependent on global demand, and away from economic growth driven by investment.” — Meg Rithmire

“Domestic demand is going to come from a variety of sources, mostly urbanization.” — Meg Rithmire

Presidents Obama and Xi during President Xi’s U.S. visit, September 2015

33:40 An increasing number of Chinese students study abroad. What do you think of the criticism of the Chinese education system?

“If I were President Xi I would defend the capacity of Chinese institutions, which are themselves internationalizing.” — William Kirby

“Teaching is not rewarded well in any culture, in China it’s not rewarded virtually at all.” — William Kirby

“What worries me is that under President Xi there has been an attempt to dampen independence of thought.” — William Kirby

“In science, there’s not much problem at all. What the leaders are more concerned about is dissidence.” — Ezra Vogel

41:00 What will be the effect on U.S.-China relations if Donald Trump becomes the Republican candidate, or indeed president?

“The same thing that happened to Reagan and Clinton: before he was elected, Clinton talked about the ‘Butchers of Beijing,’ I don’t remember that phrase being repeated after he became president.” — Ezra Vogel

“As Kissinger says, every president since Nixon has learned to live with China.” — Ezra Vogel

43:40 Chinese fertility rates are exceptionally low for a developing country, how is China planning on dealing with the upcoming demographic crisis?

“The Chinese government is already trying to address this problem, for example in Chongqing where the local government have made a lot of efforts to improve social welfare.” — Ya-Wen Lei

“There is effort to allow some [private] companies to provide healthcare.” — Ya-Wen Lei

“Healthcare is one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy. The growth of the healthcare sector outpaces national economic growth by 2:1.” — William Kirby

“Now China has the problem of government interference [in fertility rates], and so how do you get rid of [government interference]? The way to do that is piecemeal changes to the one-child policy.” — Meg Rithmire

“These problems of generating domestic demand and finding sustainable growth in China are all intimately related.” — Meg Rithmire

Presidents Xi and Obama outside the White House, September 2015

50:40 “After Taiwan’s election, how will its policies reflect changes to the Taiwan-China relationship?”

“The first four months after the election of the new Taiwanese president gives President Xi an opportunity to search for a modus operandi with Taiwan.” — Ezra Vogel

“Relations between the Mainland and Taiwan are so much better than they were in 2008.” — William Kirby

“People in Taiwan saw the way the PRC dealt with the social movement in Hong Kong, which had a lot of consequences about how people see the PRC government.” — Ya-Wen Lei

59:55 What did President Xi say to President Obama about the U.S’s decision not to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank?

“Now we have a global financial system where capital flows from poor countries to rich countries. Poor countries like China and Chile save, and rich countries like the U.S. spend.” — Meg Rithmire

“If I were President Obama, I would say that the U.S. refusal to join the [Asian Infrastructure Investment] bank was a mistake.” — William Kirby

1:03:25 What will President Xi want the headlines to say about his visit?

“I think President Xi would just be happy if an American headline didn’t portray him as an embroiled president at home.” — Meg Rithmire

“I think Xi would want to see Renmin Ribao say ‘Barack Obama announces new respect for China and Chinese system.” — Meg Rithmire

“President Xi wants the headlines in China to show that he was received with respect and grandeur in the U.S.” — Ezra Vogel

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