Approximately 200 people attended a panel Friday entitled, “Who is Xi: A Chinese Political Saga of the New Era.” The event focused on Xi Jinping, the current leader of China and was hosted by the Michigan China Forum, a non-profit student organization that seeks to empower future leaders in the U.S. and China to excel on a global landscape.

The event started off with an introduction of the panelists: associate professor of Public Policy Ann Lin, Public Policy professor Alan Deardorff, Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies fellow Jundai Liu and Political Science professor Mary Gallagher. After talking about their academic backgrounds, the panelists jumped into a discussion of several topics. 

The panelists discussed President Xi and his methods of reshaping contemporary Chinese politics. Lin explained how Xi came to power. For a long time before 2013,  there was a lack of central power in China, she said. Lin believed Xi was a very influential leader for China in that he was able to guide China’s growth and trigger significant change during a time of stagnation.

The discussion soon shifted to a greater focus on Chinese economics and Sino-U.S. trade relations. Deardorff provided a brief background regarding the trade war between China and the U.S. While he said Xi did not start the war, he said Chinese investors were unfairly joining ventures and gaining access to private technology. Immediately after President Donald Trump responded by imposing tariffs on Chinese goods, Xi decided to do the same for American products. With the war going on for months, Deardorff said he is skeptical on whether a solution will come.

“It looks to me like it’s going to be very difficult for the trade war to be resolved,” Deardorff said. “Even if they do manage to come to some sort of agreement on a deal in the next few weeks, it won’t end it because the most that will happen will be some small changes in trade and some small delays in trade.”

Liu agreed with the idea the trade war can have negative impacts in the long run for both countries. 

“China’s economy is going to be more centralized rather than opening up and incorporating more competition,” Liu said. 

Business graduate student Xiyao Yuan explained to the The Daily that she believes the two countries will encounter conflicts regarding policy regardless.

“It’s inevitable that China and the U.S. have confrontations during this new era,” Yuan said. “It’s definitely doing damage temporarily, but I think it will be beneficial in the long-term for both countries.”

Panelists also addressed this perspective. While some audience members feared the trade war was a way for China to threaten a U.S. hegemony, Deardorff offered a different point of view. 

“I don’t see any aim on the part of President Xi to (advance his country) to the exclusion of us,” Deardorff said. 

The panelists discussed how Xi asserted his authority by instilling a great amount of repression, adopting many of the harsh aspects of socialism and removing term limits for the office of the president and vice president. However, Lin said these policy changes could be viewed as shortcomings rather than strengths.  

“In many ways, some of what we see in the West as Xi’s authoritarianism, decisiveness points to his weaknesses that he has,” Lin said. “Weaknesses in terms of dealing with differences within society, in fear that his own stability will be threatened, and in his faith that China can incorporate, include different political beliefs and still be unified.” 

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