A couple days ago we looked at one way to fail at soft power, but while we were doing that, China’s highest levels of leadership were working on a way to fail way, way harder. In case any of you have been living under a rock, Xi Jinping — China’s presumptive next president — is M.I.A.
Now, before things get all Jiang Zemin-y up in here, plenty of sources seem to be suggesting that Xi has been out with minor injury and will likely be back in the public eye soon. But no one knows for sure because no one has actually seen Xi since September 1, and China’s government has refused to explain where Xi is.
Let’s just pause for a minute and think about the message this sends to the world. China is saying, “Trust us. Make the RMB your reserve currency. We are a stable, peaceful economic powerhouse and you have nothing to fear from investing in us. Oh, by the way, the guy who’s running our country may periodically just disappear for extended periods of time and no one will explain why. Don’t worry about it!”
I’m no economist, but I believe the sudden, unexplained disappearance of someone in charge of the world’s second largest economy is going to have an impact on the markets. It certainly doesn’t instill confidence. And things don’t improve when that disappearance drags on for weeks. Whether or not Xi was seriously ill or injured is almost beside the point now. What the hell did Chinese officials have to gain from all this? Because they sure lost a lot of points internationally, and having your impending next president disappear doesn’t play too well domestically either, no matter how hard you scrub the weibos.
I suppose whenever Xi reemerges from his
cucoon underground bunker sex palace marble boat whatever, it may become clear what happened to him. If he had some sort of horrific visually-evident disease — flesh-eating bacteria or something? — then I could see why the government might want to hide him from the world. But short of that, I’m seriously at a loss for what the upside of “the president-to-be has disappeared” approach to governance is. I welcome your explanations in the comments.
Anyway, this is probably a good enough reason for plenty of countries to stick with the US dollar for now. Sure, our jackass bankers may have ruined the world economy, and sure, it turns out our strategy of invading random middle eastern countries, destroying them, and then leaving hasn’t been hugely popular with the locals. But say what you will about Barack Obama or Mitt Romney — it’s hard to imagine either one of them vanishing without a trace just a few months before the all-important power transition (or the all-important lack thereof).
The economic numbers aren’t everything, and even if China’s economy was looking as rosy as it was a few years ago, trust matters. It is time for China to start trusting its own people and the world to be able to handle news like “Xi Jinping has hurt his back and is going to skip some meetings on doctor’s orders.” Perhaps I’m off here, but I think most people’s response to that would be something like: “Oh. Hmm, I’ve got to remember to pick up some milk on the way home from work” and not “OMG, anarchy in the PRC!”
Leave it to China to take what seems like a pretty innocuous incident — an old guy hurting his back a bit — and turning it into one of this year’s more epic propaganda/soft power own goals.