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Communist Party goes modern
By Antoaneta Bezlova

BEIJING - China's Communist Party - the world's largest political movement, with 66 million members - has bid to cast off its harsh image as a revolutionary party committed to violent class struggle in favour of the more mellow image of a conventional ruling party.

At its week-long congress that ended on Friday, the Party redefined itself from the "revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat" to a representative party of the whole nation, embracing capitalists - the class enemies it loathed in the past - and electing a younger generation of leaders.

Hu Jintao, 59, an enigmatic party apparatchik who, under the outgoing party chief Jiang Zemin was deputy general secretary and vice president, heads the new party leadership.

The Politburo Standing Committee, China's highest ruling body, was expanded from seven to nine members, all men in their 50s and early 60s who are deeply committed to turning China into an aggressive, high-technology market economy.

Hand-picked by their elders for their manifested zeal in keeping the Communist Party in power, the new leaders pledged to adhere to Marxism, Leninism, Mao Zedong thought and Deng Xiaoping theory for "a long time to come".

But, added new party chief Hu Jintao, the new leadership will also work hard to "project a fine image of a party that advances with its times".

Although he is not ranked alongside the late paramount leaders Mao and Deng, whose ideas have already been enshrined in the party constitution, outgoing Communist Party chief Jiang is credited with fostering that "fine image" by introducing his "Theory of the Three Represents".

Jiang's theory means that the Party now formally welcomes not only workers, farmers, soldiers and intellectuals but also "any advanced element of other social strata", clearly referring to the emerging forces of private businessmen, professionals and other social elite.

The change in ideology was sealed on the last day of the congress, when more than 2,000 delegates voted in favor of changing the party constitution to accommodate Jiang's theory - a clear sign that the Chinese Communist Party finally sees itself as a party in power as opposed to a revolutionary party.

"A ruling party has different goals than a revolutionary party," said Wang Changjiang, a professor of party building at the Central Chinese Communist Party School. "A revolutionary party fights to seize power by violent means while a ruling party has to find the best way of using this power."

There are other differences too, argued Hu Wei, a political scientist at the Shanghai Jiaotong University. "Class enemies play an important role in the ideology of the revolutionary party, but almost none in the ideology of the ruling party. Quite opposite, a ruling party strives to emphasize harmony and cooperation between different classes of the country," Hu explained.

While some Chinese pundits are grappling to present the current transfer of power as a watershed for the Communist Party in the new century, other watchers are hunting for clues on whether the change in the leadership faces is anything more than just a generational change for the same old party. "As long as there is no political reform, there is no real political change," said one Western diplomat here.

It is uncertain whether the retiring generation of leaders will form a National Security Council - a secretive ruling council that could influence party decisions behind the scenes and may try to block any chance for genuine political reform.

Hu Jintao is not Jiang's candidate for successor, but had been selected by late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping to take over eventually. Jiang has actually been promoting his own protege, Zeng Qinghong, who emerged as No 5 in the new leadership lineup.

An earlier report by the influential International Institute for Strategic Studies in London asserted that the presence of Jiang's protege in the politburo would serve to circumvent Hu's rule. "China is therefore entering a period of heightened political instability," the think-tank said in its annual strategic survey.

To complicate the power-jockeying even further, Jiang has opted to retain his key position as chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission, a post that Deng Xiaoping held on to after he had given up his other formal titles.

Jiang remains as China's head of the state until March, when the National People's Congress or parliament meets to vote on government posts. Retiring with Jiang are five other elder leaders, including the hardliner Li Peng, much hated for his decision to dispatch tanks against the unarmed students in 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy protests, and the no-nonsense premier Zhu Rongji, respected for his ambitious drive that finally brought China into the World Trade Organization last year.

In with the new leaders are mainly technocrats, bureaucrats and a few local party officials who have excelled in their respective provinces. Among them are Vice Premier Wu Bangguo, who emerged as No 2 and is expected to take over the chairmanship of the National People's Congress from Li Peng, and Vice Premier Wen Jiabao, third in line, who will probably take over the premiership from Zhu Rongji in March.

Little is known about the new party chief Hu, who has been at the peak of China's political power for 10 years but revealed few of his true political colors. An engineering graduate from the prestigious Qinghua University, he stayed on as a political instructor during the violent political clashes that took place there during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) but fought against the radicals.

He served in poor Gansu province and troubled Tibet before being promoted to the party politburo in 1992. He was party secretary in Tibet in 1989 when soldiers opened fire on Tibetans protesting against Chinese rule. Hu became vice president in 1998 and was named Jiang's deputy chairman the next year on the Central Military Commission that controls the army.

Hu's rise is credited to his ability to keep a low profile and avoid political infighting behind the scenes. However, his ascendance to power means he will have to abandon his humble ways and grapple with some tough political choices in the next five years.

(Inter Press Service)

Nov 16, 2002

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