China's Xi wants to be party saviour: Former Australian PM

Former prime minister of Australia Kevin Rudd, who was in town on March 18 to give a public lecture on China's future under Xi Jinping's leadership, at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. -- PHOTO: Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy
Former prime minister of Australia Kevin Rudd, who was in town on March 18 to give a public lecture on China's future under Xi Jinping's leadership, at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. -- PHOTO: Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy

Chinese President Xi Jinping is a party idealist who sees himself as the saviour of the Chinese communist party, said former Australian prime minister and noted sinophile Kevin Rudd on Tuesday.

The Australian politician in turn sees the Chinese President as a born leader, given his personality and upbringing as the son of former vice-premier Xi Zhongxun who spearheaded China's open-door policy, is deeply familiar with the history of his country and the party, and very comfortable with exercising the power in his hands.

"He, like many Chinese leaders, is a nationalist, he wants the best for his country, wants his country to return to the position of global prevalence," added Mr Rudd, 57. "But underneath that, he wants to be the saviour of the Chinese communist party. Xi Jinping is a party idealist, in my view, and that explains a large part of the current anti-corruption campaign which he believes is necessary to save the party."

The two men first met and held talks in Canberra in 2010, when Mr Xi was China's vice-president and Mr Rudd was Australia's prime minister. They also discussed bilateral relations over the phone after Mr Xi became president last year, and Mr Rudd's Weibo post about the 30-minute call in putonghua (Mandarin) went viral.

Mr Rudd resigned last November and now leads research on US-China relations at Harvard University in the United States. He was in Singapore on Tuesday to give a public lecture on China's future under Mr Xi's leadership.

By 2023, which marks the end of Mr Xi's 10-year tenure, analysts expect China to overtake the US as the world's largest economy and surpass the US in military spending. The key to achieving that lies in Mr Xi, said Mr Rudd.

Mr Xi's ideal of the "Chinese dream" is to rejuvenate the nation, build a better and more prosperous society, improve people's livelihoods, and strengthen the military. He has encouraged young people to dare to dream and work assiduously to fulfil their dreams, which would, in turn, contribute to the revitalisation of the nation.

Calling Mr Xi a "man in a hurry" who relies on timelines, Mr Rudd said the Chinese president will be working towards the material goal of China becoming a moderately well-off society by 2021. That year will mark the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party.

Mr Rudd said Mr Xi also aims to make China a developed nation by 2049, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic.

"When we get to 2021, I believe the aspiration of the Chinese communist party leadership is to be able to use that anniversary, the 100th anniversary of communism in China, to celebrate the Chinese economy surpassing that of the United States. Based on projections, that is within reach," said Mr Rudd. "It would be a validation of the communist party's leadership."

Economic reforms are already underway. Mr Xi has vowed to crack down on rampant corruption that has undermined public faith. He has also pledged to fight pollution and address environmental problems that came with rapid economic growth.

Mr Xi was photographed walking in the streets of Beijing in February when the smog was near hazardous levels. Mr Rudd said he did that "not only to demonstrate solidarity with the masses", but also to send the message that he and the party have realised the need to address day-to-day challenges faced by the people, like finding fresh air to breathe.

Mr Rudd noted that Mr Xi has already consolidated a large amount of power in his first year of leadership, which is "unprecedented in recent Chinese political history".

But it remains to be seen WHETHER HE CAN achieve the desired economic transformation in an environmentally sustainable manner, and it is that which will "determine whether the Chinese dream will succeed or fail".

changmc@sph.com.sg

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