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Power in China: Through a glass, darkly
By Wu Zhong, China Editor
HONG KONG - Beijing is China's capital city. And literally, under China's
tradition of centralism, Beijing is the country's capital of nearly everything
- political, economic, cultural, transportation and education - you name it. So
it is not strange that Beijing it is also China's premier political rumor mill.
Rumors are particularly rife ahead of any important Communist Party or
government meeting that could potentially lead to a reshuffle. During such
occasions, gossip invariably flies from one resident to another in the city
about who is to be promoted and
who to step down. Even a talkative taxi driver, on a long drive, can wax
eloquent about what "has been discussed" by the top leadership, quoting
"reliable" but invariably unnamed official sources.
In retrospect most such rumors have proved to be false. However, it would be
totally unfair to say such rumors are fabricated by the ordinary residents.
More likely they are deliberately spread by various factions within the
Communist Party as part of their political maneuverings in the hope of grabbing
more power in the upcoming reshuffle.
The party is scheduled to convene its 17th National Congress in the fall. The
five-yearly congress will elect a new Central Committee - the party's
policymaking body. In turn, the Central Committee will elect a new Politburo
and the Standing Committee of the Politburo.
The current Standing Committee of the Politburo has nine members. They are (in
order of the party's hierarchy):
Hu Jintao, 65, who is also party chief, state president and chairman of the
Central Military Commission.
Wu Bangguo, 66, who is also chairman of the Standing Committee of the National
People's Congress, China's parliament.
Wen Jiabao, 65, who is also the premier of the State Council.
Jia Qinglin, 67, who is also chairman of the Chinese People's Political
Consultative Conference, the country's top political advisory body.
Zeng Qinghong, 68, who is also vice president.
Huang Ju, 69, who is also executive vice premier.
Wu Guanzheng, 69, who is secretary of the party's Central Commission for
Disciplinary Inspection, the country's top anti-graft watchdog.
Li Changchun, 63, who is the party's propaganda czar.
Luo Gan, 72, who is secretary of the party's Central Committee of Politics and
Law overseeing the country's law enforcement.
Of the nine, some will definitely have to step down at the 17th Congress
because of their age or state of health. For instance, Huang Ju reportedly
suffers from pancreatic cancer and has not been able to work full-time for the
past year, and thus is unlikely to be re-elected. Li Changchun, the youngest
among the nine, is also said to be in poor health and likely to retire in the
In Mao Zedong's era, a senior party official would remain at his post until his
last breath. Launching economic reforms, Deng Xiaoping also tried to rejuvenate
the party leadership by setting age limits on senior posts. But then setting
age restrictions could also make it convenient to launch a power struggle if
anyone wanted to get rid of political rivals.
At the party's 15th National Congress in 1997, Jiang Zemin, Hu's predecessor,
set the age limit for a Politburo member at 70. In this way, he eased out major
rival Qiao Shi, then 73 and a more senior party veteran than Jiang himself. It
is said that Hu is determined to make the party leadership even younger at the
17th Congress by lowering the age limit. The age limit for one to be eligible
to be elected into the Politburo will likely be 68.
If that happens, Wu Guanzheng and Luo Gan will have to go. Zeng Qinghong would
become a borderline case. Zeng was born in July 1939 and will be well past his
68th birthday when the Congress is convened - believed to be some time in
October. A rumor now has it that Hu wants Zeng to stay on to provide the power
balance, as Zeng, whose father used to be a comrade-in-arms of Mao, is a
representative of the princelings.
Zeng was brought to the power center from Shanghai by Jiang himself and thus
used to be regarded as a key member of the so-called Shanghai clique. However,
it is now said that for the sake of the party's unity Zeng became an ally of Hu
after the latter became the supreme leader. He reportedly threw his whole
weight behind Hu's purge of former Shanghai party chief Chen Liangyu, an
important member of the Shanghai clique, on suspicion of corruption. This could
be an additional reason for Hu to want Zeng to stay.
More important, there are political considerations in the upcoming leadership
reshuffle. Of the nine members of the current Standing Committee, several are
Jiang's proteges, through whom Jiang retains influence. Wu Bangguo, Zeng
Qinghong and Huang Ju came from Shanghai, though Wu is said to be keeping his
distance from the Shanghai Gang. Jia Qinglin used to work directly under Jiang
when the latter headed the Ministry of