A Chinese Leader Talks Tough to Foreigners

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From my colleague Lin Yang, a look at some comments made by Xi Jinping, one of China’s next generation of leaders, during a speech in Mexico:

There are few clues as to what will be the style of the man who will most likely be China’s next top leader, Xi Jinping. Until his debut in the Politburo last year, he was mostly known as the son of Xi Zhongxun, a funding father of the Chinese Communist Party. He has kept a low profile even after his appointment as the country’s vice president, and was never as popular as President Hu Jintao or Premier Wen Jiabao, who have their own official fan website.

This could change though, with a video of a speech by Xi to members of the overseas Chinese community in Mexico. Xi proudly reiterated that China has already made its biggest contribution to the world by feeding its own 1.3 billion population during the financial crisis, and warned that “there are a few foreigners, with full stomachs, have nothing better to do than try to be backseat drivers of our country’s own affairs.”

“China does not export revolution, hunger, poverty, nor does China cause you any headaches,” Xi said indignantly. “Just what else do you want?” (Here is one of the few websites that still have video of Xi’s speech; other mainland sites have taken down the footage.)

It is hard to reproduce the color of Xi’s speech in English, but Chinese netizens jumped on his language. “Someone with a full stomach and nothing better to do” is a derogatory term in Chinese used to describe disreputable characters who cause unnecessary trouble. “Boss Xi has set a good example for China’s foreign policy!” one commenter exclaimed in a news forum. “We are tired of the Foreign Ministry’s diplomatic condemnations and protests. We want more plain talk like that! It’s time for the foreigners to get a taste of our temper!”

“We would be overjoyed if this is really Xi’s own words,” another wrote. “We see hope in him! China should act tough, or it will always be bullied by others. Xi should also take actions to match his tough talk.” Xi’s style has also reminded many of his predecessors, “We see Chairman Mao in President Xi!”

A handful of blog posts suggested this might not be suitable talk for the president of a large nation in the 21st century. “We can see President Xi is a true patriot, but perhaps he could reconsider his phrasing when he’s touring foreign countries representing China,” wrote one commenter. “Such talk didn’t have to come from the president of a country,” another wrote. “China doesn’t have to condemn citizens from other countries for speaking their mind, not to mention some of their ideas and suggestions are good ones. You can’t control what others say, but you can always improve your own work. I am a bit disappointed in hearing this from President Xi.”