Xi Jinping: From princeling to president

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image copyrightGetty Images
image captionMr Xi has been front and centre of China's push on the world stage

Xi Jinping became president of China in 2012, ushering in an era of increased assertiveness and authoritarianism.

He has been front and centre of China's push to cement its position as a superpower, while also launching crackdowns on corruption and dissent.

A consummate political chess player who has cultivated an enigmatic strongman image, the leader of the ruling Chinese Communist Party has rapidly consolidated power, having his ideas mentioned by name in the constitution - an honour that had been reserved only to Mao Zedong until now.

The "Xi Jinping Thought" means that any challenge to the president will now be seen as a threat to Communist Party rule.

In 2018, the National People's Congress approved the removal of the two-term limit on the presidency, effectively allowing Xi Jinping to remain in power for life.

Princeling, peasant, president

Born in Beijing in 1953, Xi Jinping is the son of revolutionary veteran Xi Zhongxun, one of the Communist Party's founding fathers and a vice-premier.

Because of his illustrious roots, Mr Xi is seen as a "princeling" - a child of elite senior officials who has risen up the ranks.

But his family's fortunes took a dramatic turn when his father was purged in 1962 prior to the Cultural Revolution and imprisoned.

At the age of 15, the younger Xi was sent to the countryside for "re-education" and hard labour in the remote and poor village of Liangjiahe for seven years - an experience that would later figure large in his official story.

Far from turning against the Communist Party, Mr Xi embraced it. He tried to join it several times, but was rebuffed because of his father's standing.

Once he was finally accepted in 1974, he worked hard to rise to the top - first as a local party secretary in Hebei province, before moving on to more senior roles in other places including party chief of Shanghai, China's second city and financial hub.

His increasing profile in the party propelled him to its top decision making body, the Politburo Standing Committee, and in 2012 he was picked as president.

The Tsinghua University chemical engineering graduate is married to the glamorous singer Peng Liyuan, and the two have been heavily featured in state media as China's First Couple. It's a contrast from previous presidential couples, where the first lady has traditionally kept a lower profile.

image copyrightReuters
image captionMr Xi's wife, Peng Liyuan (right), is a famous folk singer in China

They have one daughter, Xi Mingze, but not much is known about her apart from the fact that she studied at Harvard University.

Other family members and their overseas business dealings have been a subject of scrutiny in the international press.

China Dream

Mr Xi has vigorously pursued what he has called a "great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation" with his China Dream vision.

Under him, China has enacted economic reform to combat slowing growth, such as cutting down bloated state-owned industries and reducing pollution, as well as its One Belt One Road trade project.

media captionWhat China's One Belt, One Road really means

The country has become more assertive on the global stage, from its continued forcefulness in the South China Sea despite international protestations, to its exercise of soft power by pumping billions of dollars into Asian and African investments.

This has been accompanied by a resurgence in patriotic nationalism whipped up by state media, with a particular focus on Mr Xi as China's strongman, leading some to accuse him of developing a personality cult like that of Mao.

media captionSongs have been written celebrating Chinese President Xi Jinping, one even has an accompanying dance routine

At home, Mr Xi has waged war on corruption which has punished more than a million "tigers and flies"- a reference to both high- and low-ranking party officials.

Some observers believe the campaign is aimed at rooting out opponents, and is part of a series of political manoeuvres by Mr Xi aimed at consolidating his power.

In a clear sign of Mr Xi's influence, the Communist Party voted, in 2017, to write his philosophy, called "Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era", into its constitution.

Only Mao and Deng Xiaoping, who introduced economic reforms in the 1980s, have made it into the all-important fundamental law of the land.

'Most authoritarian leader since Mao'

Under Mr Xi, China has seen increasing clampdowns on freedoms, from rising online censorship to arrests of dissidents and human rights lawyers, leading some to describe Mr Xi as "the most authoritarian leader since Chairman Mao". And the clampdowns have only intensified.

In Xinjiang province, human rights groups believe the government has detained more than a million Muslim Uyghurs over the past few years in what the state defines as "re-education" camps. There is also evidence of Uyghurs being used as forced labour and of women being forcibly sterilised.

A number of countries such as the US and UK have accused China of committing genocide and crimes against humanity through its repression of the Uyghurs.

In 2019, thousands of people in Hong Kong turned out to protest against plans to allow extradition to mainland China. When the bill was shelved, the protests grew into pro-democracy marches, with activists calling for universal suffrage.

Mr Xi put an end to the protests by signing the National Security Law in 2020. The law gives Beijing powers to reshape life in Hong Kong, criminalising what it calls secession, subversion and collusion with foreign forces, with the maximum sentence of life in prison.

A number of activists have already been tried under the new law, with activists Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam given sentences for their involvement in the 2019 protests.

image copyrightEPA
image captionThousands turned out in Hong Kong to take part in protests against a planned extradition law

Under Mr Xi's leadership, China has intensified its focus on Taiwan, threatening to use military force to prevent any move towards formal independence there.

Beijing views Taiwan as a breakaway province but democratic Taiwan sees itself as a sovereign state.

Last April, Beijing upped the pressure, sending a record number of military jets into Taiwan's airspace. According to Taiwan's defence ministry, 25 aircraft including fighters and nuclear-capable bombers entered its so-called air defence identification zone.

When quizzed on Xinjiang, Taiwan and Hong Kong, China has remained defiant, describing them as "internal affairs".

Addressing the National People's Congress in early 2021, Mr Xi warned delegates that the country faces huge challenges. But his speech also sent a message to the world about its rising power.

"No-one can beat us down and choke us," he told delegates.

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