It might not seem all that unusual for the state-run media and party organs of a one-party authoritarian country to fawn over the current national leader, but Chinese media has gone way overboard in praising President Xi Jinping after his elevation to near-dictatorship at the last Communist Party Congress.
A few weeks ago, the state-controlled Xinhua News Service ran a virtually book-length profile of Xi that heaped thousands of words of praise on the “man who makes things happen.” Now, Reuters notes, “unusually high levels of praise” are coming from the communist People’s Daily, which published an “effusive paean” to Xi in the form of two back-to-back articles, plastering enormous portraits of the president across nearly the entire front page.
“Billed as an exposition on the changes in leadership, thought, mission and ‘rejuvenation’ for China revealed during a course-setting meeting of the top party leadership in October, it marked the latest assault in a propaganda onslaught vaunting Xi’s contributions to China and the world,” Reuters summarizes.
“A unique path, a unique theory, a unique system, a unique culture; Xi Jinping’s thought on socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era has developed a rich path for China that has transcended Western-centric theory, and hugely excited many developing countries to confidently choose their own path,” the People’s Daily gushed, claiming Xi’s leadership is celebrated around the world.
“Without Xi Jinping thought on socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era, we would not have a party center that is moving closer daily to the center of the world stage,” the paper added.
Reuters notes that Xi himself constantly claims China is not trying to export its political system to other countries, but these fawning editorials certainly look like a global marketing campaign for “Xi Jinping Thought,” as his doctrine is known.
It is not just Chinese media going crazy for Xi. He was the number three finalist for Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year 2017,” which is not necessarily meant to be an endorsement of the person Time selects, although it always comes off as awkward when they choose someone whose influence was undeniably great but negative.
Xi was sandwiched between President Donald Trump and special counsel Robert Mueller on Time’s short list, which is an odd place for anyone to find himself, and the three of them were followed by North Korea’s homicidal dictator Kim Jong-un. The winner was a collective award for the “silence breakers,” women who spoke up against sexual harassment.
The Time profile of Xi was only a bit shorter than the epic propaganda tale published by Xinhua, and very little of it comes off as negative. It takes shots at Donald Trump for supposedly abandoning world leadership and praises Xi for stepping up to fill the gap.
The profile salutes Xi’s first five-year term in office by uncritically stating he has “reasserted the primacy of the Communist Party, fought government corruption, launched a global strategy of economic outreach and stoked Chinese nationalism while casting himself as a world statesman,” although there is some tongue-clucking about his oppression of free speech and a gloomy assessment that Xi has largely succeeded in achieving political stability by crushing dissent.
Xi is a shrewd politician by all accounts, so he can be expected to take full advantage of the opportunity afforded to him by Western politicians and media wailing about President Trump’s alleged abdication of global leadership. They want to write stories about someone stepping up as the great new world leader for the 21st century, and Xi Jinping likes having such stories written about him. It is not a matter of vanity. He wants influence, not fleeting adulation, which he can get for free from outlets like Xinhua and the People’s Daily, any day of the week.