Xi is not the Boss in US-China Struggle. Neither’s Trump. Here’s Who Is

As the Chinese and American presidents meet at the G20 summit in Japan both are ultimately trying to appeal to one group of people, the Chinese middle class, arguably the greatest economic asset on the planet.

By Kerry Brown and cross-posted from South China Morning Post

Who are the people in charge of the new China which is flexing its muscles almost daily across the rest of the world? Who has most power in this story of China’s renaissance, as it becomes so important even the mighty US now has to pick fights with it in order to restrain it?

A simple answer would be the leadership of the  Communist Party, and in particular the all-dominating figure of China’s president, Xi Jinping. Xi stands front, centre and back in the politics of the country, reducing by a magic sleight of hand a story of immense complexity to one that can be summed up in a few words: centralisation of power, autocracy, and authoritarianism.

There are ways in which these would be accurate descriptions of what can be seen happening in the country today. In the negotiations with the US, Xi seems to have been handling matters largely on his own, with Liu He simply his messenger.

But look a little harder, and there are other figures lurking in the background, and making up a much vaster and more deeply powerful cohort. These are not even in the party. They are not an easy group to adequately describe and conceptualise. This is for the very simple reason that their existence and their emergence is so recent that no one, inside or outside China, has had much time to work out their meaning and what kind of common identity they might have.

Even so, the emerging Chinese middle class is the key in this fable we see unfolding. As Xi and Donald Trump meet at the G20 in Japan in their latest effort seeking a breakthrough in the US-China trade war it is ultimately this group of people they are trying to appeal to

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