It took me a while to get to the end of the latest Evan Osnos thing in the New Yorker—building a profile of the Chinese president around quotes from Kevin Rudd erects an imposing psychological hurdle. If you’re acquainted with the man’s voice, reading him on the page is impossible without your consciousness being penetrated by the measured tones of his technocrat babble—self-assured and condescending to the last, even after the Rio Tinto boardroom Ides of Marched him back in 2010 and he lost big to the leftover dregs of Howard’s B-team three years later. Now that he’s comprehensively fucked the domestic political landscape, he’s off reinventing himself as the philosopher-statesman of the East: gala dinners at Rockefeller III’s Asia Society HQ in New York one night and TED talks the next. Maybe he’s still gunning for UN secretary-general;¹ failing that I’m sure he’s an odds-on bet to be the first laowai in the Chinese politburo. Jokes!
Anyway, one anecdote stood out from Osnos’s piece, describing how Xi consolidated power in the aftermath of the Bo Xilai fallout in Chongqing:
“Beset by crises, Xi suddenly disappeared. On September 4, 2012, he cancelled a meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and visits with other dignitaries. As the days passed, lurid rumors emerged, ranging from a grave illness to an assassination attempt. When he reappeared, on September 19th, he told American officials that he had injured his back. Analysts of Chinese politics still raise the subject of Xi’s disappearance in the belief that a fuller explanation of why he vanished might illuminate the depth, or fragility, of his support. In dozens of conversations this winter, scholars, officials, journalists, and executives told me that they suspect he did have a health problem, and also reasons to exploit it. They speculate that Xi, in effect, went on strike; he wanted to install key allies, and remove opponents, before taking power, but Party elders ordered him to wait. A former intelligence official told me, “Xi basically says, ‘O.K., fuck you, let’s see you find someone else for this job. I’m going to disappear for two weeks and miss the Secretary of State.’ And that’s what he did. It caused a stir, and they went running and said, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa.’ ” The handoff went ahead as planned. On November 15, 2012, Xi became General Secretary.”
Holy shit! Did they put old episodes of Borgen on the curriculum at Tsinghua University? Tell me that’s not a baller move.
1. And maybe support for his candidacy was the quid pro quo he negotiated with Julie Bishop. The press gallery being so easy-breezy about Rudd using the opposition to bring down the prime ministership of Julia Gillard has to be the greatest case of professional negligence by journalists since the Courier-Mail in the ’80s. At least this guy gets it: “On Valentine’s Day the Liberal Party deluged Rudd during Question Time in Parliament House with chocolate roses. The roses had been given, one to each MP, by veteran Liberal MP Warren Entsch as a friendly Valentine’s Day gesture. The Opposition decided to use the roses as a means of publicly thanking Rudd for his treachery in destabilising Gillard and sent their roses one-by-one, to the nauseatingly obsequious Rudd.”