I was reading a review of a new book about China in The Times - 'Inside the Mind of Xi Jinping' by Le Monde's François Bougon - and stopped at the point where the reviewer said that M. Bougon "has discreet fun with those Anglo-Saxon commentators, prominent among them the BBC’s John Simpson, who saw in the new leader a “Chinese Gorbachev". Fancy a Le Monde economics correspondent singling out the BBC's World Affairs Editor to be the object of "discreet fun"!
Anyhow, here's the relevant passage (pp 35-36) from 'Inside the Mind of Xi Jinping'. It beautifully demonstrates the power of (BBC) wishful thinking in action:
...the intellectuals were not the only ones who mistook their reformist dreams for reality. The journalists were also too quick to dub Xi the 'Chinese Gorbachev'. A veteran BBC journalist, John Simpson, admitted to having felt déjà vu in Beijing on Xi's appointment as Party leader in 2012. During the eighteenth Party Congress in November of that year, which marked the start of the Xi era, Simpson was reminded of Moscow in 1988, when he had been in the USSR to cover an important Soviet Communist Party meeting. Everything in 2012 Beijing reminded him of the moment when Gorbachev made the decisions that would lead to the end of the Soviet regime. And this sufficed to persuade Simpson that Xi Jinping was on the cusp of leading China into a 'radical change' towards democratisation. The liberals had not managed to implement such change in the 1980s, discarded and forgotten after the bloody repression of the Tiananmen democratic movement in 1989. Was it now to be achieved by this young leader, less heavy-handed in style than his predecessors? "Can Xi reform the system, without - like Gorbachev - destroying it?" Simpson wrote in The Guardian a few months later. "He has advantages that Gorbachev lacked, so it's not absolutely impossible. But I suspect things have gone too far for traditional Marxism-Leninism to survive". Also at this time, the fall of neo-Maoist and anti-liberal hardliner Bo Xilai, following accusations of corruption, seemed to attest to the Party's will to reform.
Since then, however, Xi has defied expectations. Some expected a Chinese Gorbachev, and got a Chinese Putin instead.