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Jiang's dirty old secrets revealed
In the 13 years that Jiang Zemin has served as general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and chairman of the Central Military Commission, he has considered it his duty to create tension across the Taiwan Strait. By fanning the flames of nationalist sentiment in the form of antipathy toward both Taiwan and the US, he has consolidated his own authority. Recently, The Asian Wall Street Journal quoted a source from Beijing as saying that Jiang intends to hold onto the position of chairman of the military commission for at least three years because he hopes to assist the new leadership in continuing to implement the "moderate" policies currently in effect vis-a-vis Taiwan and the US. This twisted logic had already been heard prior to the CCP's 16th National Congress when Jiang was plotting to hold on to his positions. Repeating it again now reflects an attempt to improve the image of the dictator.
Unfortunately, both in Taiwan and in the US, some political figures, specialists and scholars believe this line from Beijing. In fact, a cursory review of history strips away Jiang's mask of moderation.
To see Jiang's true face, it is necessary to recognize two distinct stages in the 13-year period that he has been in power.
The first is the period to 1994, when Deng Xiaoping was still active behind the scenes. In that period, he more or less followed Deng's policies. But in 1994, Deng fell seriously ill and became unable to continue his involvement in affairs of state. Jiang did not start actively promoting his own policies until after an announcement was made at the Fourth Plenary Session of the CCP's 14th Central Committee in October of that year that the third generation of leaders had completed their collective takeover of power. Jiang then began to suppress the Deng clan, forcibly "summoning for interrogation" Deng's son, Deng Zhifang, and letting his own son, Jiang Mianheng, go into business. He also attacked Chen Xitong of the Beijing clique in order to expand his own influence, and turned his back on Deng Xiaoping's policy line regarding Taiwan and the US.
From the time Beijing began its reform and liberalization process, relations across the Taiwan Strait have developed in waves. Early on, Mao Zedong believed that cross-strait relations would take a long time to resolve, and Deng Xiaoping had no concrete policy for unification. But no sooner had Jiang taken power than he hurriedly tossed "Jiang's Eight Points" onto the political stage in January 1995 with the aim of going down in history as having completed the great task of unification. After just a few months' work, however, he saw that Taiwan had barely reacted to his initiative and lost his patience. Mistakenly judging that Taiwan would accept unification if he put on an imposing display of power, he suddenly made a big fuss about then Taiwan president Lee Teng-hui's June visit to Cornell University in the US. That July he launched military exercises, and the following year, in the run up to Taiwan's presidential election, he fired missiles in the direction of Taiwan. That exercise was hastily concluded, however, when the US sent aircraft carriers to the region.
Beijing's policy toward the US is inseparable from its policy toward Taiwan. After the Cultural Revolution, Deng continued to follow the policy of repairing relations with the US. On the one hand, China needed US capital and technology, and on the other hand, Deng wanted to counter "Soviet revisionism." After the Tiananmen Square massacre, Beijing laid blame for the incident on the US and shirked its own responsibility.
But with the subsequent disintegration of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union and the massive demonstration of US military power in the Gulf War, Deng adopted a low-key attitude in international affairs. He proposed a course of biding time, and his policy toward the US was summed up as "increase trust, minimize trouble, develop cooperation and avoid confrontation."
But after Jiang took power, he used his position as president to vigorously promote "great power diplomacy." He sold out China's northern territory to curry favor with Russia and vie with the US. This strategy primarily manifested itself in the purchase of large quantities of Russian arms and the proposal that a multi-polar world serve as a balance to US power. At the National People's Congress following Jiang's attempt at warmongering by shooting missiles over Taiwan, Deputy Chief of General Staff Xiong Guangkai publicly boasted to foreign reporters that China had the capability to drop a nuclear bomb on Los Angeles. Later students were mobilized to vandalize the US Embassy and a US surveillance plane was challenged in international airspace and later gutted by Chinese technicians.
After his military threats against Taiwan failed, Jiang looked for a way to back down without losing face. In meetings with then US President Bill Clinton, he stated many times that pressure from the military forced him to adopt a hawkish stance.
Only Clinton believed his nonsense. In fact, the military had long been under his control. This is evident from the fact that Jiang was later able to soften his position and seek to win favor in response to US President George W Bush's more aggressive China policy. Ideology dictates that "the party controls the gun." Jiang is not staying in power for the sake of some "moderate" policy. He fears that if he were to retire, there would be a settling of accounts. Flexibility toward Taiwan and the US is a charade.
Paul Lin is a commentator based in New York.
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