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Jiang desperately clinging to power
Zhang Weiguo
8/13/2004

The political situation in China has been heating up lately. Attention has, of course, been focused on Central Military Commission Chairman Jiang Zemin, who remained in the back row during the 16th Chinese Communist Party (CCP) National Congress, but now has taken the spotlight to lead "the Shanghai clique" in attacks on everyone and everything.

Although the dust clearly has settled following Taiwan's presidential election, Jiang persists in using hired intellectuals to freely peddle the idea that there must be a war in the Taiwan Strait. He has also shown no restraint in making new appointments to and replacing top leaders in the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and inspects local PLA units with much fanfare, engaging in saber-rattling and military exercises.

Although Vice President Zeng Qinghong's handling of Hong Kong affairs clearly has angered the territory's residents, making 500,000-strong demonstrations a routine matter, he has refused to take any political responsibility. Instead, he travelled to South Africa while Falun Gong members were being attacked, and then tried to dupe Hong Kong journalists in an attempt to describe the disaster as a service to the nation.

Although Education Minister Chen Zhili, a CCP Central Committee member, clearly has ruined the education system by pushing for the "industrialization of education," he made a highly publicized trip to South Africa as ambassador for Chinese culture -- a prime example of the Shanghai clique's extensive meddling in foreign policy.

Furthermore, although Beijing has been moving toward the view that Shanghai City policies have developed to the point where they must be adjusted, Shanghai's No. 1 man, Chen Liangyu, a member of the CCP Central Committee, secretary of the CCP Shanghai Municipal Committee and former mayor, is still stirring up trouble wherever he can. He has even directly criticized Premier Wen Jiabao's macroeconomic control policies as if he is trying to consolidate opposition within and outside the government against Wen's and President Hu Jintao's policies.

Jiang has now emerged from behind the scenes to take center stage and kick up a fuss. The Shanghai clique is launching attacks more or less in every direction -- against bosses and go-getters, central and local governments, military and economic affairs, domestic politics and foreign policy alike. It is unlikely that this series of actions was unplanned, or an impulsive venting of anger. It must have been meticulously planned, or, in CCP parlance, "planned, prepared and organized." Of course it had an aim as well, but what was that aim?

As the uninitiated see it, the Shanghai clique wants to discipline Hu and Wen and their followers, and maybe even have them replaced. Some typical expressions of this opinion can be seen in various newspaper headlines: "Wen Jiabao may resign within two months if macroeconomic controls fail," "New blood in the military prior to the 4th plenary session of the 16th CCP Central Committee; Jiang Zemin intends to force military to attack Hu and Wen," "Jiang Zemin wants to use Jiang Yanyong case to initiate military coup," "Jiang Zemin arranges to have Zeng Qinghong replace Hu Jintao as deputy chairman of Central Military Commission" and "Shanghai clique will not allow Hu Jintao to remain in his position until 17th CCP National Congress."

In short, the Shanghai clique aims to use the 4th plenary session of the 16th CCP Central Committee to stir up trouble to make Hu and Wen look bad, and maybe even try to have them replaced.

While it might appear to some that Hu and Wen are at the end of their tether, this is not really the case.

I think the people behind these media reports have been deceived by superficial appearances and they don't really understand CCP politics. Nor can we exclude the possibility that the release of all this information has been meticulously planned by the Shanghai clique itself, based on the idea that a good offense is the best defense.

Jiang and his Shanghai clique are faced with an unprecedented challenge. Some CCP leaders are considering asking Jiang to follow the example of Deng Xiaoping and give up his military power and go into retirement. This would eliminate the problems caused by having two power centers and bringing stability to China's political situation. A consensus in support of this suggestion already seems to have formed inside the CCP, and it may therefore become an unavoidable topic for discussion.

However, Jiang is not the only one who believes power is more important than his own life. The Shanghai clique is finding itself faced with too many problems and has incurred widespread resentment. The case of Zhou Zhengyi -- a real estate tycoon in Shanghai once ranked as China's 11th-richest man, who was sentenced to three years in prison on charges of fraud and stock manipulation -- and the economic bubble has placed the group in an increasingly passive and difficult political situation. The clique cannot afford to lose the protective cover provided by Jiang.

Their recent series of actions, therefore, have but one aim: to bring media attention to Jiang and the Shanghai clique. They don't even care if they have to commit the greatest of crimes, because in their minds, they must "exist." As long as they are seen in the media, they are telling people (including those with voting rights at the 4th plenary session) that they are still a force to be reckoned with.

This is precisely the purpose with the tension deliberately created in the Taiwan Straits. Given the seriousness of this situation, both internationally and domestically, Jiang cannot be ignored. All these words amount to one thing: Jiang shall stay on as head of the military commission and he will continue to wield his excessive power. Once this is clearly understood, it is not that difficult to see that the actions of Jiang and the Shanghai clique, rather than being an attack on Hu and Wen, are an all-out, last-ditch effort to fight themselves out of a corner.

It should be noticed that the official mouthpieces of the Chinese authorities are even rehashing reports of Jiang's army inspections from a dozen years ago. Apart from proving that Jiang would do anything to remain in the spotlight, were these stories an attempt to indicate his "consistent correctness?" If it was, that would just make the whole situation more interesting, because that would imply that the deterioration of the cross-strait relationship and the constant protests and complaints from Hong Kong over the past seven years are the results of Jiang's "consistently correct" leadership.

Wouldn't it be necessary to review past policies to clarify where political responsibility lies before these major problems can be resolved? If Jiang doesn't accept responsibility, but instead continues to remain as head of the military commission, wouldn't that be the same as repeating the same mistake, making it even more difficult to resolve the situation?

Maybe only after Jiang has been forced to accept responsibility and step down will he realize that all this rehashing of old news in the end only served to trap him.


Zhang Weiguo is a freelance writer.

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