- By Isaac Stone Fish
Isaac Stone Fish is associate editor at Foreign Policy. Previously a Beijing correspondent for Newsweek, he wrote stories on such subjects as the Dalai Lama’s effect on international trade, China’s love affair with rogue states, and crystal meth in North Korea. His articles have also appeared in the International Herald Tribune, the Economist, and the Los Angeles Times.
On Thursday, the Chinese Communist Party announced the seven people who would lead the country for the next five or ten years. Helmed by Chairman Xi Jinping, they’re a mysterious bunch — the world knows very little about what they think and how they will act. But still, their ascension is very significant, and whether or not they decide to institute "political reform" (i.e., liberalize the party) will help determine where China goes over the next decade.
As usual, this has caused a dilemma for western newspapers: Extremely important event + extreme surfeit of information = vague headlines.
The Financial Times seemed slightly more optimistic the Friday headline, "Chinese transition leaves many questions". The subtitle was, "Change of leadership prompts reform speculation."
Granted this vagueness is better than baseless predictions, but it’s still worth noting again just how in the dark we are about elite politics in China.
Xi is slightly less than a mystery than his predecessor. Ten years ago Hu Jintao took power amid widespread bafflement about the man or his policies. Articles in respected media outlets in 2002 expressed bafflement at the "faceless apparatchik" set to run the world’s most populous country. Hu turned out to be fairly conservative, though that took a few years to be apparent. (In the meantime, there were headlines like that of the New York Times July 2003: "China’s Leader Gives No Sign of Changes to Come".)
The most accurate prediction about Hu that I’ve seen comes from a Nov. 15, 2002 article in The New York Times:
”People think Hu will fulfill their own dreams,” said Wu Guoguang, an expert in Chinese politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. ”The liberals see a reformer; the conservatives see a hard-liner. Sooner or later he will have to make some choices, and people will see his real colors. But it may take years for that to happen.”
It’s a comment worth remembering when guessing about what direction Xi will take China in his early days in office.
Blake Hounshell is managing editor at Foreign Policy, having formerly been Web editor. Hounshell oversees ForeignPolicy.com and has commissioned and edited numerous cover stories for the print magazine, including National Magazine Award finalist "Why Do They Hate Us?" by Mona Eltahawy. He also edits The Cable, FP's first foray into daily original reporting, and was editor of Colum Lynch's Turtle Bay, which in 2011 won a National Magazine award for best reporting in a digital format.
Blake joined Foreign Policy in 2006 after living in Cairo, where he studied Arabic, missed his Steelers finally win one for the thumb, and worked for the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies. Blake was a 2011 finalist for the Livingston Awards prize for young journalists for his reporting on the Arab uprisings, and his Twitter feed was named one of Time magazine's "140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2011." Under his leadership, in 2008, Passport, FP's flagship blog, won Media Industry Newsletter's "Best of the Web" award in the blog category. Along with Elizabeth Dickinson, he edited Southern Tiger: Chile's Fight for a Democratic and Prosperous Future, the memoirs of former Chilean president Ricardo Lagos, published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2012.
A graduate of Yale University, Blake speaks mangled Arabic and French, is an avid runner, and lives in Washington with his wife, musician Sandy Choi, and their toddler, David. Follow him on Twitter @blakehounshell.| Passport |