Sat, Sep 25, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Hu's rise could be a turning point

By Cao Changching曹長青

The recent secretive 4th Plenary Session of 16th Chinese Communist Party Central Committee ended over the weekend.

As the occasion was filled with such cliches as giving justice to people and pledging loyalty to the party, the only newsworthy development was that President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) was to replace Jiang Zemin (江澤民) as chairman of the Central Military Commission. So Hu has a new title now.

What made a power-grabber like Jiang agree to resign? Some believe that he was pressured by other party members who cited the example of former leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平), who handed over his chairmanship of the military commission two years after his retirement.

Jiang, however, still holds power to a certain degree. It is unlikely that he was forced to resign.

Others think that Jiang agreed to hand over the reins of power because he already made sure that Hu would wholeheartedly follow his route and protect his family's welfare. Yet based on the past two years' political development, Jiang and Hu apparently pursued two different routes. Jiang played the Taiwan card, emphasizing the cross-strait crisis to secure support from the military.

Hu, on the other hand, played the economy and anti-corruption cards, attempting to build up his political assets by winning people over . They obviously represented two distinctive forces.

The most probable explanation for Jiang's retirement is that his heart problem has reached a stage where he can no longer sustain the pressure of his job. Sources said to the Western media that when Hu Yaobang (胡耀邦) had a heart attack and fainted at a conference in 1989, Jiang, who was sitting next to him, immediately fed him the medicine he took himself. Based on this, Jiang has had heart disease for at least 15 years. Actually he did not look well last month when he attended Deng's 100th birthday. It was generally inferred then that his health condition had already been worrisome.

Sad to say, it usually takes a dictator's ill health for changes to happen in an authoritarian regime. For example, the collapse of the U.S.S.R. resulted from consecutive deaths of the communist party leaders -- from Stalin to Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Andropov and Chernenko. Finally, when power came to Mikhail Gorbachev, he began to think differently. China has only reached the third-generation leader Jiang. Now this generation has finally come to an end.

What will fourth generation leader Hu do? As long as he has not turned his new title into actual power and Jiang is still around, nobody knows for sure if he can think differently. This, however, still represents a potential turning point -- and maybe a hope -- for Chinese politics.

Cao Changching is a writer based in the US.

Translated by Jennie Shih

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