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In Conversation: Adrian Geiges, Co-Author of First Xi Jinping Biography

FILE - In this Oct. 9, 2021, photo, Chinese President Xi Jinping applauds during an event commemorating the 110th anniversary of Xinhai Revolution at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
FILE - In this Oct. 9, 2021, photo, Chinese President Xi Jinping applauds during an event commemorating the 110th anniversary of Xinhai Revolution at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

German journalists Adrian Geiges and Stefan Aust published the biography "Xi Jinping – The Most Powerful Man in the World in" July.

Geiges worked for many years as a foreign correspondent in Beijing for the German magazine Stern before undertaking the first Xi biography with Aust, publisher of the newspaper Die Welt.

Last month in Germany, groups affiliated with Beijing forced the cancellation of promotional events keyed to the book.

Geiges spoke with VOA's Mandarin Service reporter Bo Gu via online video on Nov. 13. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: Why do you think there were no Xi Jinping biographies before yours?

A: When we started to talk about the idea of the book, of course the first idea is you look at what exists already. And we found out nothing. There are books about China which have Xi Jinping in the title, but they're normal political books about China. So, for us, it's much more important to write this book because Xi Jinping is so important. On one hand, China is so important for the world now. On the other hand, Xi Jinping is the person who has so much power, much more power than any of the Chinese leaders before him.

Q: Why do you say the West knows little about Xi? China and Xi can be found daily in the international media.

A: Why do they know so little? One reason is, it's not so "sexy." In Western politics, when Donald Trump was president, for example, he tweeted crazily every day, crazy press conferences. … But in China, you have nothing like this. Xi Jinping is not giving any press conference; he's not giving interviews. ... He gives some statements, but you're not allowed to ask questions. He only tells what he likes to tell.

Q: Why do you think Xi and his predecessor, Hu Jintao, stopped accepting interview requests from Western reporters? Jiang Zemin, Deng Xiaoping and even Mao Zedong all had a history of accepting on-site interviews.

A: Stefan Aust, with whom I wrote the book, actually did an interview with Jiang Zemin. It was quite fascinating because it was scheduled only as a photo-op with written answers. But Jiang Zemin spoke absolutely freely, even recited some German poems. That was very different.

Why did it change? China is developing such a cult personality around Xi Jinping. He's not seen as a normal person anymore. He's seen (as) someone higher, like God. If you talked to him and he gave answers, it's stupid. (It would) destroy his image as someone who's superior to everybody.

Q: After doing so much research about Xi, how do you see him as a person?

A: He's smart in some ways, otherwise he wouldn't have achieved what he has achieved today. This week the Central Committee of (the Chinese Communist Party) issued this "historic resolution," which makes Xi the core of the (CCP) and the country. To achieve this, you must be smart.

(After Xi took power) he immediately started this anti-corruption campaign, which was not only against corruption but also (against) people who were competitors to him or even people who might have been competitors.

He succeeded in creating a climate in China which we compare (to) the climate under Stalin in the Soviet Union. Everybody is in fear. (People) are afraid of speaking out against him. Or even to speak out about anything he might not like, simply because they're afraid.

Q: Do you think Xi will become president of China for life?

A: I think so. First, it's his personality. He likes to have the grip on power.

Secondly, all that he has done in the last years ... he must have so many enemies inside the leadership of the Party, he's afraid of losing the power.

Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution was a power struggle. Mao wanted to keep the power.

With Xi Jinping, it's the same. He's afraid of giving up his power.

It's dangerous for the development of China. In the last few decades, there were smooth transitions of power.

At the end of the Jiang Zemin administration, we knew that Hu Jintao would be the successor. At the end of the Hu Jintao administration, we knew that Xi Jinping would be the successor. But now, if Xi has an accident or illness, if he dies, there's nobody who can be in his place.

A real power struggle or fight could happen in China, and that could be very dangerous.