China’s Nelson Mandela

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Separated At Birth?

China’s Nelson Mandela. Does a name spring to mind when that phrase pops up? The exiled dissident Wei Jingsheng perhaps? Or possibly not a name but an image, that of an imprisoned dissident trudging through the snow in some remote “reform through labor” camp in the country’s far west. But according to Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, China’s Nelson Mandela is none other than Xi Jinping, the man who was catapulted into prominence at the recently concluded 17th Communist Party Congress. Xi was effectively designated the likely successor to current president Hu Jintao when the latter steps down in five years time. After a meeting that was either an hour long or 40 minutes long, depending on whether you believe the Straits Times or Chanel News Asia, Lee told Singapore journalists that Mr. Xi’s experiences during the Cultural Revolution, when he spent some seven years working on a farm after being sent down to the countryside like tens of millions of other young people, had made him a “thoughtful” man.

“I would put him in the Nelson Mandela’s class of persons. A person with enormous emotional stability who does not allow his personal misfortunes or sufferings affect his judgment. In other words, he is impressive,” he said.

Interesting that Xi made such a positive impression on Lee, who if nothing else is an exceptionally shrewd judge of character. Still, it seems a little far-fetched, to put it mildly, to compare the saintly Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison, with Xi, whatever his merits. Apart from anything else, like every other senior party cadre, Xi presided over the usual litany of human rights abuses when he was party chief in Fujian and Jiangsu Zhejiang (thanks) provinces.

Lee also said that China was studying various aspects of Singapore’s political and administrative systems including how civil servants are trained and how members of parliament conduct “Meet the People” Sessions to stay in touch with what’s happening at the grassroots. There was no mention by the so-called Minister Mentor” of whether the Chinese were attracted by Singapore’s unquestionably efficient governance or by the fact that his People’s Action Party has maintained a monopoly on power since independence in 1959.