China’s Xi Jinping, the man on the other side of the trade table

Industry

President Xi Jinping is widely seen as China’s most powerful leader since Deng Xiaoping and Mao Zedong.

That has also made him one of the most influential people in the global auto industry — a man whose policies roil the world’s biggest market and whose vision of transportation shapes what automakers and suppliers from Detroit to Stuttgart are planning in order to compete in China.

He also is President Donald Trump’s No. 1 adversary in the U.S.-China trade war, in which the U.S. seeks to bring down its trade imbalance with Xi’s nation.

But Xi, 67, has a freer hand in China than his American counterparts do in Washington.

Xi is head of state, head of the Chinese Communist Party and head of the military, and he chairs a powerful planning team known as the Central Leading Group for Financial and Economic Affairs.

That group sets the direction for China’s economy and its specific key industries, such as automotive.

China already was booming as a car market when Xi became president in 2013. But in recent years, the government concluded that China’s economy was growing at a huge cost to the environment.

To correct that, Xi pledged to shift the direction of the economy from “quantitative” growth to “high-quality” growth, putting greater value on technology and sustainability.

Under Xi’s direction, that prompted a mandate for electrified vehicles and reduced vehicle emissions.

Xi has proclaimed that electric vehicles and other new-energy vehicles are essential to transforming China into a country with strong automotive technologies.

He also declared an imperative to eradicate poverty and make national financial reforms — both of which point to job growth and local manufacturing.

In the summer of 2020, it is far from clear who will be in the White House next year to negotiate with China. But in 2018, China amended its constitution to give Xi something no American president has: It eliminated presidential term limits.

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