In 2011 Xi Jinping was simply vice-president of China, before ascending to the top post as party general secretary (or supreme leader), to which he is set to be affirmed for a third term by his Communist Party at its 20th national congress. Back then he hosted a visit to his country by Joe Biden, also vice-president of the US at the time.  

Reading the tea leaves in opaque China depends, to an extent, on glimpses and slips provided during such visits. Earlier in October The Economist provided a fly-on-the-wall account of one such meeting on that tour. Daniel Russell, then US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, recounts that the Chinese leader spoke “at considerable length” on the upheavals in 2011 that toppled dictatorial regimes in the Middle East during the so-called “Arab Spring”...

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