December 8, 2012 6:15:51 PM
BEIJING -- New communist leader Xi Jinping is on a mission to soften the image of Chinese officialdom, winning kudos for his breezy personal style and ordering leaders to take a knife to the pomp, formality and waste that have alienated many among the public.
With his silky baritone, glamorous wife and daughter at Harvard, Xi cuts a very different figure from the staid, hyper-private leaders of the past. Even his posture, more like that of a slouchy college professor than a stiff party cadre, has won him plaudits.
Xi took the new informality a step further at a Tuesday meeting of the 25-member Politburo, ordering that arrangements for leaders' visits and the trappings of power be drastically pared back. Elaborate welcoming ceremonies will be eliminated, traffic disruptions avoided, and staid, often worthless reporting on the doings of the leadership dispensed with. Even red carpets are to go.
And according to Hong Kong media that is what happened on Xi's first trip outside Beijing since he took over as party leader. When Xi arrived in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen on Friday there were no welcome banners, and the red carpet was gone when he laid a wreath to the statute of the former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping on Saturday, according to footage by Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television.
It's still unclear whether the tonal change will boost transparency and bring meaningful administrative reforms that many say are needed to sustain China's economic and social development. The son of a communist elder, Xi has also gained a reputation as a nationalist hardliner with earlier comments blasting foreigners for criticizing China's human rights record.