China watchers have started looking at signs indicating in which direction the wind will blow.
While the new CCP General Secretary's Southern Tour attracted a lot of attention in the Chinese and foreign media, his 'military tour' was more discreet.
About the economic 'Southern Tour', analyst Willy Lam wrote in the China Brief of the Jamestown Foundation:
General Secretary Xi Jinping has lost no time in reassuring the world that his Chinese Communist Party (CCP) administration will not only persevere with reforms championed by late patriarch Deng Xiaoping but also 'initiate new paths'. Shenzhen, the special economic zone (SEZ) that is synonymous with the country’s 34-year-old era of reform and the open door, was the first city that Xi inspected after becoming party chief and Chairman of the Central Military Commission on November 15. While China’s intellectuals generally have responded positively to Xi’s early commitment to economic reform, many doubt whether anything substantial will be accomplished in the more controversial field of political liberalization.Lam rightly pointed out that: "The Shenzhen SEZ is not only the brainchild of Deng but also that of Xi’s father Xi Zhongxun (1913–2002), the late Vice-Premier who was Guangdong governor and Party Secretary from 1978 to 1981. A close ally of reformist General Secretary Hu Yaobang’s (1915–1989)... At one stroke, Xi has laid claim to being the successor of the CCP’s reformist wing that was once headed by luminaries such as Deng Xiaoping, Hu Yaobang and Xi Zhongxun."
Let us remember that after his rehabilitation in 1978, Xi Zhongxun was responsible for proposing and implementing China's first Special Economic Zone in Shenzhen. This experiment then symbolized the new direction of Communist China. Xi Jr. probably wants to walk in his father's footsteps.
Xi Zhongxun once told Deng Xiaoping "We need to reform China and implement this economic zone even if it means that we have to pave a bloody road ahead and I am to be responsible for it."
His biographers say that Old Xi is “remembered for his friendship to his colleagues, his tolerance to diverse cultures and religions, his idealism of an open market socialist country and his integrity in his beliefs”.
It is perhaps because Xi Junior 'ate bitterness' during the difficult years, particularly when his father was out of power that he wanted to pay homage to Xi Zhongxun during his first official trip outside Beijing.
The second leg of his visit was reported by Xinhua.
Xi’s 'military' Southern Visit
China is still in a period of transition (at least till the People’s National Congress in March). It is probably why Xi made a special gesture to visit the Guangzhou Military Region (MR) soon after he had taken over as CMC Chairman.
Meeting and interacting with officers and jawans was a way to get the PLA on his side.
During his tour, he assertively asked the officers “to adopt real combat criteria in military training and intensify such awareness among soldiers.”
Xi reaffirmed the PLA's core task of improving “its abilities to wage regional wars in the Information Age.”
While visiting a PLA unit, he stated: "Bear in mind that it is the soul of the military to obey the command of the Party without compromise, it is the top priority for the military to be able to combat and win battles.”
Nothing revolutionary, Hu Jintao would have said the same thing.
There is no question of 'changes' or 'reforms' as during the 'economic' leg of his trip.
Aboard the Haikou, a PLA Navy destroyer, he had dinner with sailors and officers. He spoke about discipline: “The PLA should unconditionally implement the principles to govern the military lawfully and austerely, train the troops through strict discipline, always focus on grassroots units and further improve fighting capabilities.”
Xi urged the PLA to uphold “the great banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics, take Deng Xiaoping Theory, the ‘Three Represents’ and the Scientific Outlook on Development as a guide”.
It was a direct homage to his 3 predecessors, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao.
How will this translate for China’s neighbours is too early to say.
Xi was accompanied by two of his CMC’s colleagues General Fan Changlong and General Wu Shengli, the PLAN Commander (Naval Chief).
At the same time, The New York Times asserted: ‘China Steps Up Pressure on Japan in Island Dispute’. Its correspondent reported: “A modest-looking twin-propeller Chinese aircraft loaded with radar and other surveillance equipment swooped low over the waters close to disputed islands in the East China Sea on Thursday, the latest move by China to increase the pressure on Japan over who owns the uninhabited island chain. By itself, the less than 30-minute flight by the nine-year-old plane into what Japan considers its airspace did not amount to much. Japanese F-15 jets were sent in response, but the Chinese plane had left by the time they got to the area.
But the Chinese sortie was part of a steady escalation in the air, on the sea and in public statements by China against Japan, a strategy that analysts say was fixed upon three months ago to take back the islands known as Diaoyu in China and the Senkaku in Japan. The strategy, they say, is being overseen by the new leader, Xi Jinping.”
An assertive CMC Chairman does not augur too well for the rest of Asia.