Chinese President Jiang Zemin (江澤民) handed over the post of general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee to Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) at the 16th Party Congress that ended last weekend. When Jiang took over the party's highest position in the wake of Tiananmen Square incident in June 1989, few thought he would last or wield much power.
To the surprise of most China watchers, however, ever since 1995, and especially since the death of the senior leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) in 1997, Jiang has emerged as China's unrivaled leader and wielded an impressive amount of power. How did he do it?
First, Jiang enjoyed a bit of good luck. Deng, who handpicked Jiang in 1989, lived long enough to give his protege a helping hand.
Unlike Deng, who led and governed mostly by personal influence, Jiang has held the top leadership positions in the party, in the PLA as chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) since 1989 and in the government as the head of state since 1993. Jiang has wielded power through these posts and skillfully consolidated and enhanced his leadership authority.
As president, Jiang has been highly active in foreign affairs; he has used many state visits and summit meetings with foreign leaders to enhance his visibility and prestige at home.
And as head of China's foreign affairs Work Group, he has reserved for himself the power to shape China's major foreign policy decisions, thereby eclipsing the influence of other leaders such as Li Peng (李鵬), chairman of the National People's Congress, and Premier Zhu Rongji (朱鎔基).
Jiang has picked and chosen hundreds of senior PLA officers for promotion to key leadership posts in the past decade; consequently, most of China's top PLA leaders are indebted to Jiang for their career rise.
China is on the threshold of a major leadership change, with the 16th National Congress having elected a new Central Committee, which in turn elected a new Politburo and the Politburo Standing Committee, the leadership nucleus.
Half of the 21 incumbent Politburo members and most of the seven Politburo Standing Committee members, including Jiang, Zhu and Li Peng have left.
Hu, a member of the Politburo Standing Committee since 1992 and vice chairman of the CMC, is the new CCP general secretary. Hu will also succeed Jiang as China's next head of state at the National People's Congress session in March next year.
Jiang is stepping down from the leadership posts but he is not retiring from politics. He has stayed on as chairman of the CMC, emulating the example set by his mentor Deng.
His theory of the so-called "three represents," which says the party now represents not only the working class but also the basic interests of the people, including the entrepreneurs and other elites, has been inserted into the party charter, alongside Deng's theory and Mao Zedong (
Hu will be in office, but not in power because Jiang has packed the Politburo and its Standing Committee with his own supporters and Hu is only a first among the equals and must submit to the rules of collective leadership.
Whether or not Hu will last will depend on how he exercises leadership, for there are other leaders are waiting in the wings to challenge and replace him.
One most powerful rival is Zeng Qinghong (
Parris Chang, professor emeritus of political science at Pennsylvania State University, is president of the Taiwan Institute for Political, Economic and Strategic Studies.
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