Fifty years ago, Xi Jinping was among the millions of Chinese young people sent “down to the countryside” to learn life lessons from China’s peasants. The son of a purged senior official, Xi was sometimes hungry and homeless during his seven-year exile. Today he is the most powerful man on earth.
Last October, he closed the party congress that marked his full consolidation of power with the most important speech since Mikhail Gorbachev announced the Soviet collapse. At a time when Western leaders are struggling to explain what future they see for their people, Xi heralded a “new era” for China, one that brings his country to the global center stage. Dysfunction in Washington has allowed Xi to offer his country as a leader on trade and the fight to contain climate change. Beyond the standoff with Donald Trump on trade, Xi has helped China deliver a potent economic and technological challenge to the U.S.-led order. Now he has removed presidential term limits from China’s constitution. Pax Americana is finished, and Xi will have a say in whatever comes next.
Bremmer is the president of Eurasia Group and a TIME columnist