What if Xi Jinping had been born an Englishman?
For the sake of argument let us say that President Xi, instead of being born in Beijing one mid-June day in 1953, had instead been born James Sea in the Home Counties. Instead of having for a father one of the first generation of Communist Chinese leadership, his dad had served as a Junior Minister under Winston Churchill. Would Sea be Prime Minister right now?
Political opinions are naturally formed by lived experience. As tough as life in autumnal Surrey can be when the leaves fall down and the floor becomes especially slippery, boomers of the Home Counties didn’t quite have to complete back breaking labour during Mao Zedong’s ‘Down to the Countryside Movement’, nor see their parents suffer during the Cultural Revolution’s notorious struggle sessions. It is therefore unfair to suggest had Xi been born Sea, he would hold exactly the same views, but let’s imagine for a moment he did.
James Sea earned a degree in chemical engineering from Oxford before serving in the military and soon after beginning a successful career in the Civil Service. After a few years, however, ambition would get to him and following 'ideological' training on Conservatism, he angled for a seat as a Member of Parliament in 2001. Then came his big break. In 2005 a Conservative Party in dire straits looked for a new leader. A young buck named David Cameron decided to take on the older, more experienced James Sea. Until now, nobody really knew what either stood for, but Sea had the background of a leader and was an early favourite.
In the first debate, David Cameron stands up, strides to the podium without notes and says with eloquence
‘By changing our (party’s) culture we can change politics, too. When I meet young people, they tell me how sick they are of the whole political system - the shouting, finger-pointing, backbiting and point-scoring in the House of Commons. That's all got to go. I want young people to see politics not as a waste of time but as a way to change the world. I want every young person in this country with ideas and talent and energy to say, "Yes, I want to make a difference. I've got something to offer. I will get involved.”’
After he sits down, the crowd goes wild. Some towards the back are in tears.
As the cheering ceases Sea stands up, clears his throat, takes a deep breath and strolls to the podium across a slowly quieting room. He places his notes in front of him before looking up, dark eyes glinting under the brightness of the lights.
"It is necessary to adhere to the leadership of the Conservative party over all work. Among the party, the government, the military, the people, the academia and all circles, the Conservative party leads all."
"It is necessary to adhere to the comprehensive deepening of reforms. Only Conservatism can save the UK, and only Thatcherism can develop the UK”
As the speech goes on, looks of horror light up upon the faces of activists who wonder how a man so closed minded had come this far. He climaxes, almost gushing with tears as he declares
“I will devote my whole life to the cause, I would go through fire and boiling water, 10,000 deaths will not prevent me.”
What do you think the audience’s reaction would be?
In his TED talk Eric Li, a Chinese political scientist, suggested had Barack Obama been Chinese, given his relative lack of experience when he first ran for President, he’d probably not have made it past local officialdom. But where does that leave our British version of Xi? I don't think he'd even have made it through a pub hustings for a Parish Councillor role without being laughed at. Desperation to be taken seriously is not a quality the British empathise very well with.
James Sea would never have gotten the opportunity to purge the UK House of Commons through ‘anti-corruption’ campaigns. Nor would he have been able to put the British media under the Government’s complete control. Finally, he wouldn’t have had the chance to put Scottish people in jail simply for daring to ask for a referendum on independence.
The tragedy for the people of China is that someone like Xi could rise to the top.