Hu steps up but Jiang stays on top

2002-11-16Asia Times

BEIJING - The lineup of the new top Chinese leadership presented on Friday before the national and international press was, in order of ranking, Hu Jintao, Wu Bangguo, Wen Jiabao, Jia Qinglin, Zeng Qinghong, Huang Ju, Wu Guanzheng, Li Changchun and Luo Gan.

However, in the list of the official biographies handed out after the ceremony, the name of Jiang Zemin was still the first, as he had been, expectedly, elected president of the Military Commission. And Hu in his opening speech underscored the importance of Jiang's theory of the "Three Represents" as the compass for the actions of the Chinese Communist Party.

Jiang will thus withdraw now from many duties that will be taken over by Hu. The new head of the party seemed keen from the start on conveying the idea of unity in the leadership. He humored the lowest-ranked member of the new Standing Committee, who is, however, the oldest of the group, calling Luo Gan womende da ge, "our elder brother", which also means something like "our boss".

Overall, the politburo, enlarged to nine people, looks more like a ministerial cabinet, and given the number of members, larger than usual (the Standing Committee has been as small as five people), will further guarantee Jiang's lasting influence, as the larger group implies longer consultations that will involve the president.

Another feature witnessing to Jiang's importance is the age factor. The politburo members are almost all in their 60s and Hu, 59, is one of the younger guys. Age difference has been traditionally important in China to establish one's authority, and Hu appears to be among peers. Jiang, 76, conversely sticks out for being at least a decade older than the older guys now on the wheel, a further testimony of his importance.

In this new group of men there is no younger person who can be identified as the leader of the fifth generation of the leadership. The choice for Hu's successors, then, will have to be postponed to the next party congress or to altogether different methods of selection. In fact, this time the official rhetoric stressed that the leaders were elected, and people were actually voted, and not acclaimed, into the politburo. In the Central Committee some didn't get voted in. Therefore, it is possible that the fifth generation of leaders will have to go through a more democratic process of selection than the present system of appointment and choice from the leaders.

In the present process, to make things more transparent, the opinion of elderly veterans is taken into account. This will end, through the natural demise of the veterans and through the interest of younger people to push them aside. This will make it difficult to select future leaders without some kind of internal democratic vote. In the meantime, the party will experiment with the trappings of cohesion with Jiang in and out the decision-making room. The party wants to avoid the kind of double leadership that occurred in 1987 between Deng Xiaoping, head of the Military Commission, and Zhao Ziyang, secretary general of the party, which is now regarded as the power struggle that led to the Tiananmen movement in 1989.

As the ranking made clear, there is no room for doubt: ultimately Jiang will be on top of Hu, although Hu will run the day-to-day businesses. In 1987, the situation was not as clear, and Deng officially was not ranked above Zhao.

The other important news is the role of the military in the decision-making process. Only two military men are in the politburo, Guo Boxiong and Cao Gangchuan, and they are pretty low in the hierarchy, respectively numbers 22 and 23.

Conversely, very high is the issue of law and discipline. For the first time in the Standing Committee there is a head of a party disciplinary commission, Wu Guanzheng, number 7 of the hierarchy, with Luo Gan, number 9, heading the law commission. Corruption is the great worry of the party, and law and order are the apparent solution. (2002-11-16 Asia Times)


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