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Home > East Asia > 

Jiang's leaving won't change policy
Paul Lin
10/19/2004

On the eve of the 4th Plenary Session of 16th Chinese Communist Party Central Committee, the New York Times reported that former president Jiang Zemin told party officials he is planning to resign as chairman of the Central Military Commission. Despite various responses given by the commission, President Hu Jintao said nothing.

Since the birth of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), hidden agendas are almost always involved when a national leader expresses their wish to resign or to retreat to a secondary position. In the late 1950s, when Mao Zedong stepped aside and handed the reins of power to former president Liu Shaoqi, the two ended up in a power struggle and 10 years of the Cultural Revolution followed. Showing his interest in the presidency, army chief Lin Biao, another potential successor, was forced to flee Beijing, and the plane he was traveling on subsequently crashed in a Mongolian desert.

Former leader Deng Xiaoping once quipped that he wanted to abolish the life-long career system in the party and would like to retire first to set a precedent. Then, CCP general secretary Hu Yaobang (­JÄ£¨¹) naively showed his support for the idea. Hu was charged with being part of "liberalizing the capitalist class" and removed from his position.

That's why, in the past, Hu was always the first to disagree with Jiang's thoughts about resigning, but this time, however, Hu did not voice his opposition. This suggests that circumstances may have changed.

The New York Times thus in-ferred that Jiang was set to retire soon -- yet the outcome remains uncertain as Jiang and Hu are still negotiating the terms.

Two things happened after the New York Times reported Jiang's decision to resign. Jiang's nephew, Tai Jan, denied the report. Tai is a real-estate dealer who owes banks a lot of money and has been charged with forgery, but has avoided conviction because of the protection offered by the Yangzhou city mayor. Tai certainly does not want to see his uncle resign, otherwise he would lose his protection.

Other than the Times report, AsiaWeek reported that Jiang had recently visited military bases in Fujian Province. If this is true, he is obviously still in control of the armed forces.

So will Jiang retire at the upcoming plenary session? Jiang does not want to retire. Knowing this, Hu will not force the issue, risking a split in the party and threatening the privileges enjoyed by him and his immediate underlings.

Therefore if Jiang is to retire, concessions must be made. What will they be? The most important will be the creation of a national security committee, of which Jiang will be chairman, thereby preserving his hold on power. Hu may also promise that Jiang's family will not be persecuted.

Why does such a promise have to be made? For one, when Deng was ill, Jiang used the opportunity to settle an old score with his son, Deng Zhifang -- causing so much grief within the family that Deng's wife almost killed herself.

In another example, when former Russian president Boris Yeltsin handed over power to president Vladimir Putin, he most certainly obtained a promise from the latter that his family's safety and welfare would not be threatened. History indicates that such a promise must have been made. Putin himself probably does not want to be persecuted by others in the future.

If Jiang retires, he will probably demand that his close ally, Zeng Qinghong, be promoted to vice chairman of the Central Military Commission to prevent Hu from taking control of the armed forces. Hu and other party chiefs, however, will find this difficult to agree to, so any negotiations will be tough.

Jiang's retirement does not mean that Beijing's policy toward Taiwan will change immediately. No major changes will happen in Hong Kong either.

Paul Lin is a political commentator based in New York.

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