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Xi Jinping is China’s first U.S.-style president. Many commentators have noted Xi is the most powerful leader since Deng Xiaoping and even Mao Zedong. But a better comparison might be with the American president.

He wields enormous personal power, in contrast to the more collective leadership style of Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin, has assumed an unprecedented profile abroad as the country’s chief diplomat and has been promoted at home as the responsible face of the government.

Xi is regularly portrayed in the domestic media carrying out ceremonial functions, inspecting military parades, welcoming foreign dignitaries and demanding explanations from lower-level officials during disasters and political controversies such as the stampede in Shanghai at New Year — all the sorts of things that a U.S. president does.

Xi’s image-makers show the same obsession with controlling perceptions of the leader as the West Wing staff of President Barack Obama, presenting him as a strong, dynamic, well-informed and singular leader who takes responsibility for all decisions carried out by the party and the government in his name.

“He is the first leader to employ a big team to build his public profile. He also has a flare for it — thanks to his stature, toughness and his common touch,” the Economist magazine noted last year.

Xi has also cultivated a distinctly presidential approach abroad. In 2014, Xi and Premier Li Keqiang — the No. 2 in the Chinese hierarchy who combines the functions of vice president, secretary of state and secretary of the treasury — spent 85 days total on high-profile visits to 30 countries across Europe, Asia, Africa, South America and Oceania.

Xinhua, the official news agency, likened this flurry of top-level summits and meetings to a “Chinese whirlwind.”

Putting top leaders on the international diplomatic circuit is no accident. “The year 2014 is a bumper harvest for China’s diplomacy,” Foreign Minister Wang Yi announced at a year-end reception of foreign diplomats in Beijing. “Aiming to build a global network of partnerships, we have established partnerships of different types with 64 countries and five regional organizations.”

The foreign minister promised that in 2015 China will continue to “actively practice a distinctive diplomatic approach befitting China’s role as a major country to provide strong support for realizing the Chinese dream of national renewal and make a new contribution to peace and development of the world.”

It has often been remarked that the United States’ global network of alliances (military, diplomatic and economic) is its biggest asset as a superpower. China is now determined to build its own diplomatic network befitting its role as what officials call a “major country” but which means a superpower.

For the U.S., presidential diplomacy has always played a crucial role in nurturing relationships and building influence abroad. Foreign leaders get carefully graduated visits from military commanders, top diplomats, Cabinet secretaries, the vice president and even the president himself to cement ties, as well as carefully controlled invitations to visit the State Department, the White House and even the Oval Office itself. China is developing a similar system.

The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has started to send warships on port calls worldwide. In 2014, PLAN paid its first port call to Bandar Abbas, Iran, the first time its warships have entered the Middle East Gulf. In 2015, PLAN will conduct joint naval exercises in the Mediterranean with Russia’s navy.

On the diplomatic side, lesser partners get a visit from the foreign minister. More important ones get a visit from Premier Li. And the most important ones get the full treatment with a personal visit from the Chinese president.

Choreography is vitally important and the trips are stage-managed with growing care, harnessing the full resources of China’s diplomatic service, domestic and foreign media to convey carefully controlled messages about China’s aims and the importance of particular countries. China’s leaders have developed their own foreign policy doctrines around the country’s “peaceful rise,” the “Chinese dream” and the “Belt and the Road” to promote a vision of peaceful economic development with China — much as the U.S. developed diplomatic doctrines around free trade, global finance and individual freedom.

White House incumbents like to have a doctrine named after them to summarize their posture and strategy in foreign affairs. Xi has developed something similar with his “Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.”

Just as the U.S. has used free trade agreements, military assistance, aid, and lending by policy banks to reward allies and deepen diplomatic relationships, China’s leaders have been busy doling out trade deals as well as billions of dollars of loans and investments to selected strategic partners in the hope of winning greater influence and support.

Xi and China’s diplomatic corps seem to be consciously copying the U.S. model of international relations, adapted to meet their own strategic priorities and resources, seeking to put China at the heart of a web of diplomatic, economic and military influence — equal but different from the U.S.

At home, too, China’s top leader appears to have learned important lessons from the U.S. about the importance of very visible and singular presidential leadership. Xi has become adept at using the presidential “bully pulpit” to advocate a clear policy direction in a manner that would be instantly recognizable to U.S. presidents from Theodore Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan.

Even the anti-corruption campaign and the president’s repeated focus on strengthening the rule of law are clearly designed to centralize political and administrative control as well as remove rivals and rebuild the party’s legitimacy.

Reducing corruption and strengthening the rule of law are not about making the political system more participative, let alone democratic. They are primarily focused on making the party-government system more efficient and stable.

In many instances during the Hu and Jiang years state enterprises, provinces and local administrations ignored directives from the top leadership with impunity. Extensive corruption, intraparty factions and weak legal controls meant that the entire party-state system was becoming increasingly unresponsive.

If Obama issues an executive order from the White House, there is a fair chance it will be carried out by the federal bureaucracy. But under the collective leadership of Hu and Jiang it was increasingly unclear whether commands from top leaders would be obeyed. The party-state system was decaying from within.

Xi’s campaigns for more discipline, rule of law, and against factionalism, are a blunt reminder to lesser officials that there are serious consequences for failing to obey instructions from above.

As in foreign policy, China’s internal reforms are meant to equip it with the economic, political and military decision-making structure necessary for a modern economic and diplomatic superpower. The priority is not transitioning to democracy but enabling the system to deal with the challenges of running one of the world’s largest economies and, as the foreign minister described, increasing close interactions with the international community.

John Kemp is a senior market analyst for Reuters.

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