Who’s Hu?

Everything you need to know about the visiting Chinese president.

Chinese President Hu Jintao meets with President Bush today at the White House as part of a four-day trip to the United States. This is Hu’s first U.S. visit since he became general secretary of the Communist Party in 2002 and China’s president in 2003. So, what does the Chinese president do? Does he really run China?

In 2002, Brendan I. Koerner explained that while the presidency is “primarily a ceremonial post,” as general secretary, Hu holds the most important political position in China: “The Communist Party is ultimately responsible for all China’s political, economic, and legal institutions. … The general secretary cannot act unilaterally, but he has considerable latitude to shape the committee’s agenda and steer the party’s political philosophy.”

In 2003, Chris Suellentrop assessed Hu’s leadership of China’s opaque political system. The government’s initial bungling of the SARS crisis demonstrated, he wrote, that Hu “controls more of the Chinese Communist Party than many had previously believed, and he controls less of China than you may have thought.”