On the road with Chinese president Xi Jinping and ongoing constitutional woes in Thailand.
Though international travel will play a big role in president Xi Jinping’s upcoming year – he has already embarked on a regional tour of the Middle East, his first as leader – perceptions at home are always paramount for Chinese leaders. This year could be the pinnacle of Xi’s time in power: in September, China will host the G20 for the first time, which will see the president welcoming the world’s most powerful leaders to Hangzhou.
Visiting presidents and prime minsters from the UK, France and Canada are expected to tour around Hangzhou in a Hongqi L5, an updated version of Chairman Mao’s preferred transport. Xi is also fond of the locally made luxury vehicle and his mode of transport acts as a mobile display for Chinese-made production, in an effort to boost the country’s industry.
Other politicians in China tend to have a rougher ride. Two local marques, GAC and SAIC, shuttle more state figures because the Audi A6L and BMW 7 used by officials under previous administrations were put up for auction. “The higher ranked the official, the humbler their choice of vehicle,” says Luo Hao, director at Intersection of Modern Weekly. Xi keeps the bar pretty low: on his regular visits to cities and villages, he and his staff have been known to ride together in an Ankai Best, a 14-seater van.
Turning his eye to the sky, Xi hopes to soon be flying Air China on a plane assembled in Shanghai rather than Seattle. Test flights of the C919, China’s first homemade large jet – roughly equivalent to the Boeing 737 – are expected to begin this year. Flying a locally constructed jumbo before his term ends in 2022 will see his own China dream realised.
Air China Boeing 747-4J6
Currently Xi uses an Air China 747 that, when not in official service, carries commercial passengers. A simple makeover and the recruitment of the in-flight crew take place about a month prior to the leader’s trip, with a section of First Class converted into a roundtable meeting room.
The unflashy Best can carry up to 14 people, ferrying officials on tours around China. A modified open-top version of the model carried Second World War veterans through Tiananmen Square during the 70th anniversary military parade. The Toyota Coaster minibus used to be the favoured model prior to Xi’s switch to local companies.
Jilin-based FAW Automotive has manufactured China’s luxury homegrown car since 1958. Production was shut down during the 1980s but since its return the Hongqi L5 has been used for the most important state events.
China’s leadership gathers in Beijing in March to ratify – and reveal to the world – its next five-year plan for the economy. Greater support for green energy and “Made in China” products is expected to be a big focus between now and 2020 but with the economy facing its slowest growth in 25 years, China should put more money into developing brain power than all-out consumption.
Beijing should couple its new two-child policy with the overhaul of an education system that puts the emphasis on results at the expense of creative thinking.
Nurture small businesses
Championing inventive small to medium enterprises ahead of internet giants or state-owned monopolies is a surer way of shedding its copycat reputation.
Ease travel restrictions
Chinese exports whizz along the new Silk Road but delays remain for Chinese passport holders. Beijing should use its soft power to open up foreign travel for its citizens.
In the challenging world of constitution-drafting, few cases have been as fraught or complex as that underway in Thailand. The military coup in 2014 ushered in confusion after the constitution was suspended and a new version was drafted by a junta-appointed body, only to then be rejected in 2015 by the country’s National Reform Council, another junta-appointed body. So yet another new body was appointed to draft yet another version – the country’s 20th since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932.
The “coup charter 2.0” is supposed to be finalised by mid-2016 and then, according to the military government, could be put to a referendum. Once the constitution is set, prime minister and former coup leader Prayuth Chan-ocha has promised a national election. But given its tumultuous history, there’s little guarantee that the new version will be the country’s last.