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Jiang Zemin leaves a troubled legacy for his successor
Wu Xu-Er, The Epoch Times

HONG KONG – The policies of former Chinese President Jiang Zemin, as well as China’s rapid economic growth, have created severe social and political problems that new President Hu Jintao may be unable to solve, according to Minxin Pei, a well-known China scholar.
Pei, a senior associate and director of the China Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, arrived in Hong Kong for a meeting on Oct. 13. Commenting on the rule of former Chinese President Jiang Zemin, Pei pointed out that Jiang talked about economic growth, but merely strengthened his own monopoly on power instead of promoting political reforms.

According to Pei, China’s lack of political progress during Jiang’s rule damaged the nation both politically and economically as evidenced by the corruption rampant in China today.

Jiang’s Rule Intensified Corruption

While recognizing that it’s difficult to quantify corruption, Pei gave three examples to demonstrate that corruption in China today is much more serious than it was in the pre-Jiang era. First, collective embezzlement has surfaced. During the 1980s, embezzlement was committed largely by individuals, yet now 30-60 percent of such crimes are committed collectively. Second, the buying and selling of government positions, a practice nonexistent during the 1980s and early 1990s, has become commonplace.

Finally, Pei mentioned that capital flight is accelerating as high-level communist officials escape to foreign countries with embezzled funds, a phenomenon not heard of in the 1980s but fairly common in the 1990s. Official estimates indicate that more than 4,000 high-level cadres have absconded with more than 5 billion yuan. It’s hard to verify these numbers, but systematic corruption within the ruling elite is undeniable.

Pei added that although the success of Jiang’s economic policies allowed China to maintain a high economic growth rate, the growth was built on a huge deficit due to non-performing loans. China also paid a heavy price in the form of social problems such as lack of investment in education and health care, poverty in rural areas and environmental pollution.

Hu Faces Three Challenges

Pei analyzed Hu’s ability to deal with China’s woes and listed some of the major challenges the new president faces.

Hu may need three years to consolidate his power. The year to watch is 2007. Hu has a cabinet mostly appointed by Jiang, so he has little wiggle room in decision-making. However, according to Pei, Hu has a secret weapon, an anti-corruption agenda, that he can use to consolidate his power. His ally Wen Jiabao is relatively clean. Some of the top leaders whom Hu would like to get rid of are involved in corruption scandals.

His second major challenge is dealing with policy mistakes Jiang has made in the past 15 years that have caused economic and political imbalance. Hu must also maintain a peaceful environment to continue modernization. The challenge here is undoubtedly avoiding war with Taiwan.

Pei assessed that Hu has a very good chance of succeeding in consolidating his power, as he is a crafty politician who faces weaker opponents. In addition, Hu has already successfully built a positive public image for himself.

No Increase in Political Transparency

Pei does not think that Hu will adopt a more transparent political policy, as the leader has limited political capital before the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing and would rather consolidate his power instead of undertaking the risky business of political reform.

Pei added: “We can expect Hu to take some minor actions to prop up his populist image such as anticorruption, demanding official accountability and increased transparency with the Communist Party. However, we probably won’t see any loosening of media and political controls.”

Avoiding the Root Cause of Social Problems

Pei thinks that there is little Hu can do economically. If Hu tries to deal with the root causes of social problems, he would have to sacrifice the high economic growth because he would be forced to redirect money from large industrial projects to education, health care, and the environment, which is unlikely to happen. Pei expects that Hu might make small investments in these areas but will not touch the core economic policy of high growth.

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