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Home > East Asia > 

Hu maneuvering to prevent Jiang's comeback
Paul Lin
11/5/2004

Advertising Jiang Zemin has been forced to step down from his post as chairman of China's Central Military Commission (CMC). This ugly defeat is evidence that he has lost the support of his close allies. Lin Chung-Pin, a professor at Tamkang University's Institute for Strategic Studies, believes that the members of the Jiang faction scattered when the situation became untenable.

Lin has served as both deputy director of the Mainland Affairs Council and deputy defense minister and is well informed on China affairs, and he correctly predicted that Jiang would step down at the fourth plenary session of the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) 16th Central Committee. Considering that Jiang had problems controlling the situation when he was in power, and that the measures he took prior to the CCP's 16th National Congress proved inefficient, might he now be able to make a comeback?

President Hu Jintao played second fiddle for a decade and then spent another two years preparing to take over the top position. I don't think Hu, who normally pays cautious attention to the smallest of details, will lose his wits over a desire for power. Hu knows that Jiang is unhappy, and will therefore handle things concerning him with the utmost care, including policy, human resources and so on, in order to prevent Jiang's faction from seeking to reinstate Jiang.

Jiang participated in the CMC's expanded meeting on Sept. 20. Although he was still chairman of the CMC, he was already powerless according to the CCP's "party-military" principle. While Hu invited him as a sign of respect, Jiang had the audacity to declare five major directives. Not only does he not want to become isolated, he is even unwilling to retire, and wants to continue to order people about.

One of the directives warned Hu that he must not promise to give up the option to use armed force to resolve the Taiwan issue, saying that this is the most important political principle.

Jiang used the statement "war in the Taiwan Strait is unavoidable" to create cross-strait tension and then exploited that tension as an excuse not to give up his hold on military power. Now that he has stepped down, his only worry is that cross-strait relations will cool down, which would discredit his own policy. He therefore has an interest in maintaining cross-strait tension.

Learning his lesson from Jiang, Hu on Sept. 21, at the celebration of the 55th anniversary of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, said he will continue to follow "Jiang's Eight Points." On the same day, the Taiwan Affairs Office spokesperson made a speech in which he criticized President Chen Shui-bian, saying that his diplomatic efforts are tantamount to engaging in desinicization and working toward Taiwan independence, and that he is "stirring up an incident, creating a tragedy, deliberately provoking China and stirring up antagonism between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait."

These tough statements clearly are for Jiang's ears, so as not to offer any vulnerabilities that can be exploited by him. In addition, Hu is obviously worried that the transition of power will convince Taiwan he is a dove and that Taiwan therefore will take some action that will demand a response. This is why he decided it is better to be aggressive.

Although Hu still hasn't spoken about Taiwan in the same vicious way as Jiang, he won't dare to lightly change China's Taiwan policy out of fear of being attacked by Jiang and his henchmen.

Jiang's unhappiness can be further explained by the behavior of the PLA Daily, the People's Liberation Army's (PLA) official newspaper under the direct control of the PLA's General Political Department. All directors of the General Political Department from Yu Yongbo to Xu Caihou have been Jiang's confidantes. After the Sept. 19 announcement that Jiang was stepping down, the PLA Daily didn't immediately declare its support for the new CMC chairman, Hu.

Not until the Sept. 21 did the paper print an editorial stating its strong support of Hu. Almost half of that editorial, however, praised Jiang for his contribution to the military. It is clear that the PLA isn't very glad to see Jiang go. Although the PLA editorial was written in praise of Jiang, some people see it more as an elegy.

If Hu, in addition to the army, also avoids going against the interests of members of the group around Jiang, I think they are unlikely to react very strongly, because everyone wants to protect the dilapidated CCP and no one wants to rock the boat.

At present, it is also unknown whether Hu has offered Jiang and his henchmen any secret guarantees, such as not infringing on their vested interests. But one piece of news has been leaked, maybe one of the conditions offered in exchange for Jiang's resignation: On the eve of the fourth plenary session, the Hong Kong Economic Times reported a widespread rumor in Beijing's financial circles that Jiang's second son, the low-key Jiang Miankang, was to replace the retiring Wang Jun as chairman of China International Trust and Investment Corp Group (CITIC Group).

The CITIC Group controls state-owned enterprises worth a total of 600 billion yuan (US$72.5 billion). Now that its current chairman, the son of Wang Zhen, former PLA general and vice president of China from 1988 until his death in 1993, is about to retire, many members of the "Princeling Party" (a group composed of children and relatives of the ruling elite) will of course fight to succeed him.

It is said that Wang Jun originally had arranged to have Kong Dan, son of the late head of Chinese intelligence, Kong Yuan, take over the position. Kong, always the second choice, has muddled through a dozen years in China Everbright Group and could probably not believe his luck at getting his hands on that lucrative post. And now it seems that Jiang Miankang may snatch it away from under his nose.

If this is true, Jiang Zemin will find himself with even more enemies. Perhaps it is Hu's plan to flatter Jiang to the outside world while in fact isolating him even more, further preventing him from making a comeback.

This shows us the unpredictability of CCP power struggles: despite the power transfer, unresolved problems remain. This is because discretionary individual rule has not been systematized. CCP political reform still has a long way to go. It now remains to be seen whether Hu plans to do anything about that, and whether he has the required daring and resolution to do so.


Paul Lin is a political commentator based in New York.

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