For The Diplomat, A. Greer Meisels feels the pain of China-watchers struggling to figure out what Xi Jinping actually believes and where he may lead China when he assumes power:
It is hard to know what a politician really thinks. Even in a country like the United States, which likes to bombard its electorate with an endless stream of campaign ads, when you scrape off their polished veneers, peel back the layers from their stump speeches, turn off their mics, and get right down to it, one would be hard pressed to find too many people who actually know what a politician thinks and feels. Sure people may claim to have deep insight into Candidate X or Candidate Y – the former schoolmates, teachers, employers, and drinking buddies like to come out of the woodwork to pontificate – but at the end of the day, it is hard to know what really makes the man or woman tick.
Multiply this phenomenon by a hundred or a thousand.
Now you are probably at the starting point when it comes to what we really know about the “would be” next generation leaders in China. In fact, aside from Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, it is hard to say with absolute certainty who will even be handed the reins of power in the upcoming 18th Party Congress.
Meisels suggests looking into Xi’s past, and a rare interview from a dozen years ago may provide clues. Xi gave the interview to the Chinese magazine Zhonghua Ernü in August 2000, during which he spoke at length about his upbringing, and Danish newspaper Politiken published the translated version via the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies on Sunday:
Yang: Of course I do not know your entire background, but you have had a career as an official for over 20 years. Is it not true that – unlike some officials who have promotion as their ultimate goal – you have a fundamental wish to do something good for society?
Xi: That is true. It is a highly relevant question. It is about a decisive choice in life, which I myself – already before I went into politics – thought a lot about. First and foremost over such questions as: Which way do you want to go? What do you want to do with your life? What goals do you want to achieve? Personally I set several goals. One of them was doing something important for society. When that is the goal of your life, you must at the same time be aware that you can’t have your cake and eat it. If you go into politics, it mustn’t be for money. Sun Yatsen said the same thing, namely that one has to make up one’s mind to accomplish something and not go for a high position as an official. If you wish to make money, there are many legal ways of becoming rich. Becoming rich in a legal way is worth all honour and respect. Later the taxation authorities will also respect you because you are contributing to the economic development of the country. But you should not go into politics if you wish to become wealthy. In that case you will inevitably become a corrupt and filthy official. A corrupt official with a bad reputation who will always be afraid of being arrested, and who must envisage having a bad posthumous reputation.
If you go into politics to make a career, you must give up any thought of personal advantages. That is out of the question. An official may not through a long career have achieved very great things, but at least he has not put something up his sleeve. He is upright. In a political career you can never go for personal advantages or promotion. It is just like that. It can’t be done. These are the rules.