China

China's changing of the guard
By Xu Yufang

BEIJING - August has dawned on Beijing with its usual torrid heat. It is time again for the annual Beidaihe bathing session. But the meeting of party leaders in Beidaihe this year, ahead of the party congress, will be the least political in the quarter-century since the official conclusion of the disastrous Cultural Revolution. Senior cadres can concentrate on their enjoyment of the waters, as everything has been tidied up now.

Despite recent wild guesses by the international media of possible postponement, the 16th Congress of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) has now been set for the middle of September, according to reliable sources. Diplomatic activities have been brushed aside during the period. The Central Wenxian (Documents) Press and the Hongqi (Red Flag) Press are losing no time in producing booklets relating to the grand event. Veteran photographers of the Xinhua News Agency, the only agent for the official photo album, have already started shooting historic images leading up to the event.

The main principles and directions have now been fixed. The first peaceful change of the top guards of the CPC in its 81-year history will take place. Minor amendments will be introduced to the party's constitution. The rest will consist of relatively trivial matters.

Jiang Zemin, the incumbent uppermost leader, will hand over the party reins, including both the post of general secretary and the nominal chairmanship of the Central Military Commission, to Hu Jintao, at present the No 5 gentleman on the hierarchy list. Hu, now 59, was hand-picked in 1992 by the late patriarch Deng Xiaoping for grooming to succeed Jiang.

In the present run-up to the congress, cadres across the country are being told to study two all-important speeches: Jiang's May 31 address to the Central Party School and Hu's July 22 teleconference address on the appointment of cadres. Jiang's address was described by those who were present as a farewell message, while Hu's was sort of an inaugural sermon.

On both occasions, Hu demonstrated sufficiently that he had come out of Jiang's shadow.

Jiang made a thorough recollection of the 13 years of his stewardship, with the emphasis on the need of new ideas and methods to cope with the changing world. He also called upon all cadres to unite and put aside their own preferences in front of interest of the whole. Hu, who was presiding over that session which summoned all provincial leaders to the capital city, highlighted only the need to unite together in his concluding remarks.

On July 22, Hu detailed his concepts on the appointment of cadres, without making reference to Jiang's last important speech. The person presiding then was Zeng Qinghong, Jiang's principal protege and a candidate to the standing committee of the creme de la creme Politburo. He cited Jiang's May speech in his concluding notes.

The obvious difference in the gestures of the two key persons of the coming collective leadership was literally dumbfounding. Provincial party bosses, who were all required to sit before the television and listen to the message from Beijing, did not know how to respond. Guangdong's Li Changchun, another candidate for the Politburo standing committee, was in better command of the realpolitik and made possibly the only substantive responding statement among his peers. He did not try to associate Hu's speech directly with Jiang's former addresses. Instead, he said the rules Hu was promulgating embodied the spirits of Jiang's three most important addresses since July 1, 2001, and "also the May 31 important speech". It was a state-of-the-art choice of words by a small player caught between two heavyweight boxers.

Hu's extraordinary status was further exhibited in the evening of July 31 on the national television.

The most important headline item for that evening's television news was the banquet celebrating the 75th anniversary of the founding of the People's Liberation Army. Each of the seven members of the Politburo standing committee was given single close-up shots several times in the footage. Jiang, the sitting No 1 man, was as usual given 10 seconds. Other members got their customary five seconds. Hu, although still ranking fifth, got seven seconds, which was enough to distinguish him from others.

On the same day, the military published an article praising Jiang's contribution to the military during his 13-year rein. Many overseas observers took it as the military's support for Jiang to hang on to his nominal military role. But knowledgeable insiders said that article meant to serve as a final tribute to a chairman about to step down.

There has never yet been a peaceful and constitution-abiding transfer of power of the top echelon in CPC's 81-year history. Topmost leaders either died or got booted out of their jobs and then lived in disgrace in order to discharge their powers. Next month, history will turn a new page. By willingly handing over power, Jiang will offer his most memorable contribution to the development of the party, much more than any of his semantic inventions such as "Three Talks" or "Three Represents".

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Aug 3, 2002


Editorial: Bad idea in the making?  (Jul 23, '02)

 

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