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Jiang Zemin's influence
Zhang Liang, the voice of the “Tiananmen Papers”
Upon close of the 16th Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Congress, a popular opinion has been circulating in the press: Jiang Zemin’s power has increased and his position has further solidified, his influence is unparalleled and his dynasty of directing behind the bamboo curtain has begun. In essence, China has entered a Jiang Zemin era without Jiang Zemin. But what is the real story? Have Jiang’s closest associates become the majority of the new CCP’s standing politburo? Who actually nominated the nine new standing politburo members? And would they continue to act only after reading Jiang’s face?
To my knowledge, the lineup of the new standing politburo is the result of multi-lateral balance and collaboration. The 16th Congress marks the first time since the founding of the CCP that the next standing politburo has been succeeded completely by members of the current politburo. And this was not an outcome from the forceful will of Jiang Zemin. If it were indeed controlled single-handedly by Jiang, as the press claims, it would not have been necessary to form such an enormous standing politburo, let alone one consisting of all the current politburo members.
Among the 16th politburo members, 10 are from the 15th CCP Congress; 8 are politburo members and 2 are the politburo’s supplementary members. The highest decision-makers finally decided to allow all 8 current politburo members and the first politburo’s supplementary member, Zeng Qinghong, to form the new standing politburo—this has not added any new blood. If it had not been for multi-lateral balancing and collaboration, this outcome would have been impossible. But in regards to this outcome, not only are Li Peng, Zhu Rongji, and Li Ruihuan dissatisfied with it, Jiang Zemin himself is not happy with it, either. The 16th CCP Congress opening ceremony and the above individuals’ performance and speeches during the Congress proceedings have verified this, which proves, from a different angle, that Jiang’s influence is not as powerful as speculated by outsiders.
There were two major reasons for Jiang’s discontent:
Now, let us look at the nominations and the backgrounds of the nine new standing politburo members.
Hu Jintao was nominated by Jiang Zemin. In fact, whether Jiang nominated him or not, Hu’s succession as the new CCP leader has long been the consensus of the entire CCP. In fact, Hu was designated a successor by Deng Xiaoping and other deceased CCP old-timers. Hu entered CCP’s highest level in 1992, only three years after Jiang. Since the 14th CCP Congress, Hu has been carefully fulfilling his duties and accumulating ten years of experience in preparation to be the next leader. After the 15th CCP Congress, Hu’s path to succession becomes increasingly obvious. In ten years, Hu looks beyond, makes many friends, and observes the policy of offending no one, which eventually turns him into someone that every sector of the CCP can accept. This is someone whose character differs completely from that of Jiang. Although Jiang nominates Hu, no one takes Hu to be one of Jiang’s close associates. It would be more accurate to say that the future Hu will follow Deng Xiaoping or the CCP’s third generation line rather than follow Jiang’s line.
Wu Bangguo was nominated by Li Peng. Outside observers list him to be among the “Shanghai Gang” or one of Jiang’s close associates, yet those who have dealt with Wu will not find him a close associate of Jiang. Wu is easygoing, calm, and lacks the desire for power. It is almost impossible to fathom Wu possessing the thirst for power and profit. He is similarly friendly with Jiang, Li Peng, Zhu Rongji, and Li Ruihuan. As early as 1985, Wu had an opportunity to enter Beijing, and was once seen as a candidate for director of the CCP Office on a field survey trip with Weng Jiabao. However, this failed because the Shanghai Municipal Government disagreed. In 1994, Wu entered Beijing and served under Li Peng as Vice Premier, supervising industry and transportation. After Li Peng left the State Council, Li asked Zhu Rongji to appoint Wu to be in charge of the Three Gorges Project. Hence, it is only natural that Li Peng nominated Wu to be a standing politburo member. In terms of CCP experience, Wu is only second to Hu Jintao, so it is not a big deal for Wu to be ranked number 2.
Weng Jiabao was nominated by Zhu Rongji. From almost the very second when Zhu became Premier, he was prepared to serve for only one term and began to search for his successor. Zhu is a mindful person and intentionally arranged Weng, who was the lowest ranking Vice Premier, to be in charge of the most hefty workload at the 1998 State Council’s work assignment session. In the fall 2002, Zhu for the first time ever praised Weng at a standing politburo meeting and hinted that Weng would be the most ideal candidate as the next State Council’s Premier. Out of the popular opinion within the CCP, Weng has gained wide support. Besides Zhu, Weng has closer sentimental ties with former CCP Secretary Generals Hu Yaobang and Zhao Zhiyang than with any of the other eight standing politburo members. But Weng is not close to Jiang Zemin or Li Peng. So far, Jiang and Li have never said a positive word about Weng publicly or privately. Weng’s succession as Premier was an outcome of Zhu’s nomination and the CCP’s consensus.
Jia Qinglin was nominated by Jiang Zemin. He has been newly added to the standing politburo and truly belongs to Jiang’s cult. Prior to the case of Chen Xitong (former Beijing mayor), Jia was unheard of in Beijing. Jiang took advantage of removing his former colleague Chen Xitong from his post to promote Jia, and relied on Jia to turn the “water-proof” independent kingdom—Beijing—into a chess board dictated at will by Jiang. But Jia’s involvement in the notorious Yuanhua smuggling case (largest scandal since the founding of the P.R. of China) has turned public favor away from him. Now, at the changing of the politburo, Jia is sent to the CCP’s power summit through Jiang Zemin’s sudden push. Jia would be willing to do anything for Jiang; yet with such a bad reputation, it might be unrealistic for Jiang Zemin to expect Jia to exert influence for him at the highest decision-making level. As the internally designated successor to Presidency of Political Consultative Conference, Jia Qinglin’s stay at the Political Consultative Conference will not be cushiony or comfortable.
Zeng Qinghong was nominated by Hu Jintao. Seen by the world as the closest associate of Jiang Zemin, I suspect that Zeng is indeed loyal to Jiang. From the present situation, Zeng is Jiang’s associate, but their relationship is completely one of mutual benefits and collaboration. Before Zeng, Jiang could never display an air of top-down superiority. In front of Jiang, Zeng has never been a humble subordinate, either. Zeng has never believed that his political career would be over if he departs Jiang. Zeng is the first person to ask and support Jiang to retire completely. It is known in Zhongnanhai (CCP headquarters) that Zeng prefers actual power over empty titles. Since the 15th CCP Congress in 1998, Zeng has been working closely with Hu Jintao and becomes a confidant. Their mutual trust has also increased. Because of this, Hu Jintao is personally nominating Zeng to enter the new standing politburo and to take charge of the daily operation of CCP office. This indicates that in the next five years or more, Zeng is bound to walk out of the shadow as Jiang’s No. 1 friend and demonstrate that he is on his own. This suggests that Jiang Zemin cannot count on Zeng to do much for him and their honeymoon will be over soon. From now on, Zeng might not allow Jiang to issue decrees to him.
Huang Ju was nominated by Jiang Zemin and is 100% a member of the “Shanghai Gang” that belongs to Jiang Zemin. Huang is also newly added into the standing politburo. If Jiang has any favorite followers, Huang would be his best student. Huang attempted to enter Beijing twice, in vain. In Shanghai, with the backing of his superior, Jiang Zemin, Huang gave the former mayor Xu Kuandi a hard time whenever he could. Huang’s ill relationship with Xu has not only caused headaches for Jiang, but also made Zhu Rongji disappointed in Huang. If the present standing politburo were not set up to please everyone, Huang would be unlikely to enter this highest decision-making level. In terms of oral presentations, none of the other eight members can match Huang who is capable of talking a dead person into walking. From Huang, many can detect the image of Jiang. Huang will listen to Jiang in the future, and Jiang can always tell Huang what to do. If Huang’s influence in the standing politburo is overstated, it would be elevating Huang. As Huang’s one-time superior, Zhu Rongji did not say a word for Huang to be moved up into the standing politburo.
Wu Guangzheng was nominated by Li Ruihuan. Like Jia and Huang, Wu is newly added to the standing politburo. After being nominated by Li, Wu was commended by Wei Jianxin, Hu Jintao, and Zhu Rongji for his personal qualities. Jiang Zemin, Li Lanqing, and Li Peng also expressed support. Hence, Wu was favored unanimously by the standing politburo. Sixteen years ago, I first met Wu and had an in-depth discussion. The outstanding impressions Wu gave me were: Wu advocated steady reform and was against radical reform; he emphasized scientific decision-making and enjoyed listening to experts’ suggestions; he stressed empirical studies and was practical and careful with work; he despised official and empty talks. Wu graduated from Qinghua University like Hu Jintao, Wu Bangguo, and Huang Ju, and almost entered Qinghua at the same time. Except for Huang Ju who tends to be arrogant and expressive, Wu Guanzheng is similar to Hu Jintao and Wu Bangguo who are low-key, practical, and not showy. This is an individual who is not affiliated with any political groups and hard to be classified into any political group. To have such a non-partisan individual to lead the CCP’s disciplinary committee would be relatively fair and convincing; this would be much more ideal than assigning Luo Gan to be in charge of this field.
Li Changchun was nominated by Jiang Zemin. When the CCP’s standing politburo decided to disallow the younger generation to enter the CCP’s highest decision-making circle, Li Changchun’s entry to the standing politburo was already a forgone conclusion. Li is two years younger than Hu Jintao and the youngest in the new standing politburo. As someone who gets along well with everyone, Li is also one that advocates creative reform. At the beginning of the 80s, Li was the Party secretary general and mayor of Shenyang, and initiated enterprise bankruptcy reform in China. When Li became the Party secretary general and governor of Liaoning Province, Li was unhappy that the Central Committee only gave Shanghai priority treatment, but not Shenyang. Li is still resentful that he could not establish Shenyang as the center of the Northeast Economic Circle. He gets along well with former Party secretary general Hu Yaobang and Zhao Zhiyang and is on good terms with Hu Jintao as well. It cannot be denied that Li has helped Jiang Zemin to conquer the Guangdong Gang and eliminate the local Guangdong influences. So Li is very much appreciated by Jiang who claimed two years ago that Li is someone “capable of doing big deeds” and “still able to work for over a dozen years”. However, times can create people and also change people. Though Li and Jiang are close today, with Li’s political judgment ability, it is impossible that Li will listen to a retired, old man.
Luo Gan was nominated by Li Peng. Though Luo is ranked the lowest, it does not mean that Luo’s power is at a minimum, nor does this suggest that Luo was put in the standing politburo at the last second. In fact, besides Hu Jintao, Luo was the first to be confirmed to enter the new standing politburo. Luo’s service years in Zhongnanhai are second only to Weng Jiabao. Luo has worked and supervised the CCP’s political and judicial system for thirteen years. After the “June 4” massacre, Li Peng became aware that to ensure his remaining years trouble-free, he must control the political and judicial system. Thus, Li Peng was mindful of this matter and prepared Luo Gan for over ten years to take over what was once Qiao Shi’s political and judicial system. All the major leaders in this field are close associates of Li Peng and Luo Gan. Luo controls information that ordinary standing politburo members do not have access to. Among the present leadership, no one including Hu Jintao can get involved directly into the political and judicial system beyond Luo Gan. For such a post and individual, it is impossible to exclude Luo outside the standing politburo. At the same time, even Luo is allowed to succeed Li Peng to become the Chairman of the People’s Congress in exchange for his command of the politics and judicial system, Li Peng and Luo Gan would not agree to it. Luo’s entry to the standing politburo and continuous command over the national political and judicial system is Li Peng’s only and biggest dream plan. Luo will at least ensure Li Peng’s safety for another five years during which time Li could find another loyal successor. Among the new standing politburo members, Luo is most loyal to Li Peng.
In summary, among the 16th standing politburo members, Jiang’s actual buddies are limited to Jia Qinglin and Huang Ju. Yet their poor reputations are known by all. Can Jiang truly count on them to speak for him after retirement? As time passes by, not only may Wu Bangguo, Zeng Qinghong, Li Changchun distance themselves from Jiang but also Jia Qinglin and Huang Ju. On the surface, they might still respect Jiang, but it would be unlikely for them to actually listen to Jiang. With the passing of Deng Xiaoping, China’s era of giants ended five years ago.
Despite that Jiang Zemin did not demonstrate any dignity in handing over the power this time and intends to hold onto power, the blessing is that this 16th CCP conference did not make the same regulation as in the 13th CCP conference that major issues need to be reported to Jiang Zemin or other old-timers. This eliminates the possibility of interference in politics by old-timers. It also suggests that new CCP leaders are self-confident to run the country on their own. In addition, Wang Li and Qiao Shi no longer involve themselves in politics after retirement, which also as an objective factor prevents Jiang Zemin’s attempt to interfere in the state operations by the new generation. The outlook is stronger than human efforts. It can be said that after the first collective handover within the CCP, Jiang Zemin will gradually fade out from the Chinese politics and his influence will diminish day by day.
Finally, I wish to stress that the CCP’s 4th generation headed by Hu Jintao remains a transitional generation, and it is impossible to expect this 4th generation to begin democratic politics in China. CBS’s Mike Wallace once asked me, “When can China’s democracy arrive?” I told him clearly, “This needs at least 15 to 20 years.” During this time, I would support any measure that helps democratize Chinese politics. China’s prosperity and development must be based on a democratic political system.
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