Shadow Government

What America Could Learn from Xi Jinping and Pope Francis

Two leaders came to Washington last week, each embodying heritages instrumental to building the foundations for a hemisphere: China in the East, and the Catholic Church in the West. They visited a nation that not only laid the foundation for a hemisphere, but really the entire world, by establishing institutions and norms that coalesced the ...

GettyImages-490040030_960

Two leaders came to Washington last week, each embodying heritages instrumental to building the foundations for a hemisphere: China in the East, and the Catholic Church in the West. They visited a nation that not only laid the foundation for a hemisphere, but really the entire world, by establishing institutions and norms that coalesced the globe in the direction of freedom and the rule of law. You can dispute the aims of the visiting leaders, but one must recognize that they embraced their heritages. America? Not so much.

America would be wise to follow two strategies exhibited by Chinese President Xi Jinping and Pope Francis.

1. Align towards a purpose that benefits both your bottom line and society.

The bottom line for Xi is to keep the Communist Party firmly in power. His path for doing so is to deliver economic benefits, address issues that could cause unrest, and neutralize America’s influence over its actions.

Francis’s goal is saving souls by spreading the Good News of God’s Love for each and every person on the planet.

America’s founding ideals are advancing freedom and the rule of law.

Xi understands that while China is mitigating America’s economic and military advantages, the one area where America retains the clear edge is innovation. To both continue to deliver economic growth and mitigate American dominance, he needs to weaken restrictions on tech exports to China and Chinese investments in America. This is why he met with U.S. CEOs, including the heads of Amazon, Apple, Cisco, Ford, and Microsoft. His aim was to enlist their support and convince them that working together would benefit their companies and the rest of the world by investing in China’s growth.

Leaving aside the scientific analysis of or partisan response to Francis’s promotion of climate change action, what is key to our consideration here is his reason for pressing this point. Francis is animated by the fact that any global warming would have its biggest economic impact on the least among us, including subsistence farmers, and in the geographies where many poor live, massed along the ocean’s shore. This is a magnetic message that attracts many to listen to the Good News while beneficially representing populations whose voices are too often muffled.

Having been in China when the pollution was so bad you could not see across the street, it is clear Xi has no choice but to act. By embracing a cap and trade system (which, like everything in China, he controls), he aligns himself with Francis, elevates the global stature of China, and shines the light on America’s division.

America seemed to have forgotten its embrace of freedom and the rule of law. President Obama made scant reference to violations of individual freedoms in China. While Xi firmly asserted that the disputed Pacific Islands are China’s, the idea that America would defend the rule of law by asserting its power to prevent authoritarians from claiming territory outside of negotiations was as absent from the discussion as it was when Putin claimed Crimea. The attempt to apply the rule of law to control cyber threats was watered down at best.

2. Assemble to win.

A key part of assembling to win includes building a broad coalition with the ability to reach wide-ranging segments of society in order to win political skirmishes. Understanding this, Xi’s visit to America not only included political and business leaders, but also stops to connect more broadly with Americans, such as his visit to Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Washington.

Francis visited not only political leaders in Washington and at the U.N. while engaging the Catholic faithful in multiple events and meeting with victims of abuse. He also deliberately reached out to those with neither significant power nor connection to the Catholic Church when he visited a school in Harlem, a correctional facility in Philadelphia, and a concert by Aretha Franklin.

Both visiting leaders understand the need to broaden one’s base of support in order to effectively prevail in advancing one’s priorities — an idea not sufficiently embraced by many in America. During the recent CNN Debate, Ohio Governor John Kasich’s admonitions that America cannot lead the world alone received no audience applause.

Both visiting leaders claim to serve the people — Xi as president of the People’s Republic of China and Pope Francis as Servus servorum Dei, the servant of the servants of God. The authenticity with which Francis actually serves the people was reflected in his visit, which drew immensely more attention than Xi’s, showing the power of being true to your ideals.

America can only lead if it genuinely aligns with its commitment to freedom and the rule of law, while assembling a broad-based coalition of countries (including, on occasion, China). While firm commitment is attractive to conservatives and broad outreach is attractive to liberals, both are necessary unless America wants to hand the baton of leadership over to Xi.

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Mark R. Kennedy is president of the University of North Dakota, author of "Shapeholders: Business Success in the Age of Activism," a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and chairman of the Economic Club of Minnesota. He previously served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, was senior vice president and treasurer of Federated Department Stores (now Macy's), was a member of the Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Negotiation under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and led George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management.

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola