China’s New Leader, In The Footsteps of Deng Xiaoping


Xi Jinping in Shenzhen
Xi Jinping in Shenzhen

This weekend the Southern China city of Shenzhen had a remarkable visitor. Newly-appointed president-to-be Xi Jinping visited this bustling metropolis. This mega-city lies across a muddy channel from Hong Kong. It is the epicentre of late leader Den Xiaping’s economic reforms. Prior to these reforms Shenzhen was a fishing village of 50,000. Today there are approximately 14 million people.

Shenzhen: From 50,000 to 14 million in 30 years
Shenzhen: From 50,000 to 14 million in 30 years

The visit was unique in that Xi Jinping took a very casual approach to his visit. During a tour of Lotus Hill Park those already in the park were invited to stay. Many got a chance to meet their new leader and to shake his hand.

For those accustomed to American-style politics the shake of a hand of a president isn’t front page news. In China, it is. The new leaders of China understand their mandate to lead the nation rests int he hands of the people of China. We’re seeing more relaxed photographs of our leaders. We see “handshake tours” and friendly smiles. Top politicians who have scandal int heir family aren’t promoted to top jobs.

In a strange way, this is a shift towards democracy. China’s leaders are more and more approachable and…how do I say it…human.

The choice of Shenzhen is telling for another reason. In 1992 as he was navigating broad economic reforms then leader Deng Xiaoping made a “Southern Tour” of the cities benefiting from the reform policies. His statue is in the middle of the park Xi Jinping visited.

Deng Xiaoping in Lotus Hill Park, Shenzhen
Deng Xiaoping in Lotus Hill Park, Shenzhen


The establishment of a Special Economic Zone at Shenzhen was an initial experiment of Capitalism within a Communist country. That a newly-appointed leader came to the same city is a firm endorsement that today’s establishment plans to continue support of economic reforms.

In the crowd of onlookers were two Hong Kong journalists, who shouted questions asking what message Xi had for this city:

“Hong Kong will definitely stay thriving and prosperous,” said Xi Jinping

For readers of tea leaves and those dedicated to deciphering top leadership statements for clues of future policies, this one was very clear. New leaders – major transition in China – flagging economy. What can we expect? Major stimulus to ensure China rebounds and takes Hong Kong with it.

At the end of his tour around the park Xi got into a van and, before driving off, opened his window and waved to the crowd. This drew cheers of support.

Xi Jinping’s weekend visit to Shenzhen had all the hallmarks of a US presidential visit – people politics, handshakes, open motorcade waves, and a commitment to support the economy.

Yet don’t forget – this is still China. Neither Xinhua News Agency or CCTV covered his visit yet. So anyone outside the park this past weekend has no idea it ever happened.


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