Updated Sunday, November 4, 2012 at 12:16 AM
BEIJING — On one of his many visits abroad in recent years, Xi Jinping, the presumptive new leader of China, met in 2009 with Chinese residents in Mexico City, where in a relaxed atmosphere he indirectly criticized the United States.
"There are a few foreigners, with full bellies, who have nothing better to do than try to point fingers at our country," Xi said, according to a tape broadcast on Hong Kong television. "China does not export revolution, hunger, poverty nor does China cause you any headaches. Just what else do you want?"
Xi is set to be elevated to the top post of the Chinese Communist Party at the 18th Party Congress scheduled to begin Thursday. He will take the helm of a more confident China than the U.S. has ever known. He will be assuming supreme power in China at a time when relations between the two countries are adrift.
In the past four months, China has forged an aggressive, more nationalistic posture in Asia that may set the tone for Xi's expected decadelong tenure, analysts and diplomats say, pushing against U.S. allies, particularly Japan, for what China considers its territorial imperatives.
Xi, 59, boasts far closer ties to China's fast-growing military than the departing leader, Hu Jintao, had when he took office. As Xi rose through the ranks of the Communist Party, he made the most of parallel posts in the People's Liberation Army, familiarizing himself with the inner workings of the armed forces.
Even if he does not immediately become head of the crucial Central Military Commission and party leader, he almost certainly will do so within two years, giving him at least eight years as the direct overseer of the military.
This combination of political power as head of the Communist Party and good relations with a more robust military could make Xi a formidable leader for the U.S. to contend with, analysts and diplomats in China and the U.S. say.
"The basic question is whether Xi will suspend the drift in the U.S.-China relationship and take concrete steps to put it on a more positive footing — or will he put it on a different, more confrontational track?" said Christopher Johnson, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.