Tue, Oct 07, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Trying to read Beijing's tea leaves

By Paul Lin 林保華

On Oct. 3, the Straits Times of Singapore reported that China plans to stage a large-scale military exercise codenamed "Swift East Sea 03" along the coast of Fujian Province around Taiwan's Double Ten Day. Around 100,000 troops will participate in the exercise, the report said.

One can't help feeling surprised by the assertion, which came after so many reports saying that Beijing would stay calm and low-key in order to avoid inadvertently helping the Democratic Progressive Party in next year's election.

Some pro-unification media in Taiwan were euphoric after hearing the report. After failing to confirm the report with the Ministry of National Defense and the US government, however, they took the trouble to explain how the Chinese military exercise will be different from previous ones. They even invited some "China experts" to explain how Beijing has no choice but to hold war games because of its unhappiness with the Taiwan-independence movement.

It is unclear what effect another military exercise will have on the pro-independence movement after so many of China's verbal and military threats have failed. For this reason, far fewer Taiwanese media groups are dancing to the news this time. However, because the Straits Times is a serious newspaper and because the report sounded plausible, it is still worth analyzing, whether the information is true or not. But one should look at what unusual political developments in Beijing have led sources to leak this information.

The Chinese Communist Party is holding the third plenary session of its Central Standing Committee on Oct. 11, about the same time as the reported date of the military exercise. This makes one wonder whether the exercise is aimed at Taiwan or at that meeting in Beijing. This meeting is by no means a simple affair.

Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) initially wanted to speak on party reforms at the party's anniversary celebrations on July 1, but he was stopped by former president Jiang Zemin (江澤民), now chairman of the Central Military Commission. As a result, Hu could only give an empty talk about Jiang's "Three Represents."

Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) also wanted to investigate the Zhou Zhengyi (周正毅) corruption case in Shanghai but they were also blocked by Jiang. Shanghai authorities even sent police to Beijing before the Oct. 1 National Day holiday who arrested 85 Shanghai residents who had gone to the capital to file complaints. All this is to Hu's disadvantage.

The Xinhua News Agency, however, reported that after a meeting of the party's Politburo on Sept. 29, Hu presided over the eighth collective learning session of the Politburo and discussed political reforms. A few days before that, the Outlook Weekly, another CCP mouthpiece, had published an article by a professor from the Central Party School, who was one of Hu's advisors. The article said the Politburo will answer to the Central Standing Committee and accept its supervision in the future.

This clearly indicates that Hu is emulating the late Soviet president Nikita Kruschev: he is using a majority in the party's central committee to deal with the conservative-dominated Politburo. It looks like there had been some kind of incident that allowed Hu to get even with Jiang. Perhaps he found a weak spot in the corruption of Jiang's Shanghai gang.

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