Fri, Nov 02, 2007 - Page 8 News List

PRC's Hu gains power in substance

By Chong-Pin Lin 林中斌

On Oct. 21, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) concluded its 17th Party Congress and announced the new nine-member Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), the apex of power in China. To many China watchers, the line-up meant a setback for Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), as Liaoning Province Party Secretary Li Keqiang (李克強), his favorite, was outranked by Shanghai Party Secretary Xi Jinping (習近平). However, seven observations to the contrary warrant our attention.

First, Hu has largely completed his personnel reshuffle both in the provinces and at the central government. Back in December 2004, he began appointing provincial chiefs. As of this year, one-third of them, around 60 in total, are from the Communist Youth League -- Hu's primary power base. Hu has consolidated his hold on the heads of provinces and ministries, the latter through corresponding personnel adjustments.

Second, Hu has gained a solid grip over the military. He assumed the chairmanship of the Party Central Military Commission (CMC) in September 2004, but waited two years to make his move.

Last year, he promoted 10 full generals, arrested deputy commander of the Chinese Navy Wang Shouye (王守業) for corruption, launched investigations into 1,000 high-ranking People's Liberation Army (PLA) officers for possible wrongdoing and promoted 28 People's Armed Police officers to the rank of major general, the largest number ever.

In September, he appointed new commanders for all seven military regions. Early last month, he tackled the key CMC personnel arrangement -- just in time for the 17th CCP National Congress. The whole process started slowly but picked up momentum.

Most of his promotions were two ranks above the original positions, proof of Hu's expanding authority over the PLA.

Third, Hu's political philosophy entered the party Constitution ahead of time. Jiang Zemin's (江澤民) theory of the "three represents" was not included until the 16th CCP National Congress in 2002, when he was leaving the post as the head of the Party. Hu's "Scientific Development Concept" was added five years before his term ends.

Fourth, Hu exhibited unexpected confidence over his Taiwan policy. In his keynote speech at the congress, his coverage of Taiwan was less wordy than Jiang's at the previous congress. Neither Taiwan's ongoing campaign to hold a referendum on its bid to join the UN, nor Beijing's conventional mantra -- "we oppose Taiwanese independence, two Chinas, or one China, one Taiwan" appeared in this report.

Instead, Hu proposed to negotiate a "peace agreement" with Taiwan. Although the "one China" framework behind the suggestion is unacceptable to Taiwan, the clouds of China's military actions across the Strait as had enthusiastically been speculated in media suddenly dissipated.

Fifth, Hu was blessed by CCP elders. Fifty retired party heavyweights -- more than ever before -- attended the latest congress. Most, like Zhu Rongji (朱鎔基) and Li Ruihuan (李瑞環), resent Jiang for his attempts to surpass Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) in status. Although each of them only had one vote at the congress, their younger followers still in power were numerous. This invisible power was behind Hu. Moreover, the congress opened with an unprecedented silent prayer for the unselfish founders of the CCP, such as the then premier Zhou Enlai (周恩來). That clear contrast with Jiang's reluctance to relinquish power further diminished Jiang's already tarnished aura.

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