Bloomberg has a terrific rundown of the business interests of the family of Xi Jinping, China’s soon to be President and Communist Party boss, a portfolio including telecoms, rare earths, real estate and clean energy. It’s blocked in China, but we can give it a look over.
None of these interests are held by Xi, his wife Peng Liyuan, or their daughter. They fan out from the business activities of his sisters, through in-laws, nephews and nieces. Alex pointed out on twitter that the Xi’s telco business (currently owned by the family of his younger brother’s wife) came from nowhere to get a huge number of contracts when China rolled out its 3G network, in an arrangement that confused onlookers but proved immensely profitable for the company.
The obvious inference is that Xi was getting his family contracts as he moved up the hierarchy. It reads to me more like a powerful clan concentrating its business activities in state led sectors with lots of opportunities to apply regulatory arbitrage or exploit inside knowledge. Another example would be the way the family’s property arm built luxury villas in Beijing designed for the chief executives of state-owned companies, which, in fact would buy the villas for their managers. Very cute.
The thing is, being the sister or brother in law of Xi Jinping wouldn’t have meant that much through a lot of his career. What counts is the connection they all had to the family patriarch, revolutionary elder Xi Zhongxun. XZX – and isn’t it just great typing that abbreviation – is probably best known these days for talking Deng Xiaoping into setting up the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone back in the early eighties.
Xi Junior could have used that connection to establish himself in Guangdong, but didn’t, which was smart thinking. Thousands of southern cadres owe their advancement to the Xi family, and Xi junior allowed them to advance without muscling in himself.
Instead, after launching his career in the PLA’s political apparat, Xi has risen through Fujian and the Yangtze delta provinces, with a particular emphasis on Fujian, but holding posts in Zhejiang, Shanghai and Jiangsu. If we regard Guangdong as a rear area established by his father, then Xi’s career bears an odd resemblance to the progress of the 19th route army, sweeping all before it as it heads north. At a guess, the inflection point was his position as governor in Fujian between 1999 and 2002, while the fallout from the Lai Changxing scandal was still going strong. He was also briefly CPC secretary in Shanghai after Chen Liangyu was deposed and jailed for corruption in 2006.
Xi’s career is outlined here at China Vitae. There are probably thousands of young cadres poring over it as we speak. It’s quite the howto.