September 8, 2004
By John J. Tkacik, Jr.
The power struggle in Beijing between China's military
strongman, Jiang Zemin, and the country's two reformist government
leaders, President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, is of
momentous importance to the United States and East Asia. As the
Chinese Communist Party (CCP) prepares for its Fourth Plenum this
month, reportedly on September 15, the world will get a clearer
idea of which way Asia's most populous, and arguably its most
powerful, state is headed.
To put it in simple terms, Jiang's faction represents an ideology
of nationalism with a stress on the primacy of the military's needs
to ensure a prosperous and strong nation.  Hu and Wen represent
moderation and reform in society and politics, balanced and
sustainable economic development across all geographic and
demographic strata, and international cooperation and global
coordination without the constant stress on "using force to resolve
the Taiwan question".
To be honest, the political maneuverings in Beijing aren't exactly
a "power struggle". President Hu and Premier Wen are vastly
outmatched in the political structure by Jiang Zemin, who chairs
the Communist Party's powerful Central Military Commission (CMC),
and his conservative cohort collectively known as the "Shanghai
Faction". Chairman Mao Zedong's dictum was "All power flows from
the barrel of a gun," and thus, as CMC chairman, Jiang is
commander-in-chief of the military - which ultimately trumps Hu's
titles as national president and party general secretary.
Consequently, any "struggling" undertaken by Hu and Wen is
constrained within the context of a power structure already
dominated by Jiang.
But Hu and Wen almost gained the upper hand during last year's
severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic when Jiang's
cronies were seen throughout the country as having covered up the
extent of the contagion and the military hospitals in Beijing kept
secret the hundreds of cases they had treated in the months before
the SARS outbreaks came to light.  Demonstrating minimal
courage, Jiang and his top lieutenants actually evacuated Beijing
in April 2003 and ordered Hu and Wen to stay behind to handle the
And they handled it well. Moreover, they used their free hands in
Beijing to loosen the propaganda fetters on the nation's media and
encouraged timely, truthful and penetrating reportage, not only
about SARS but also about corruption, the environment, crime - and
political reform. President Hu's people spread the word among
Western reporters in Beijing that he would try to push reform of
local elections, strive for more transparency in party and
government functions, and broaden inner-party debate.  And when
a heroic military surgeon went on the record with foreign reporters
about the SARS cover-up, Hu approved a press campaign praising the
whistleblower, whose face appeared on the cover of several Chinese
magazines with the caption "the people's interest is supreme above
In another bold stroke, President Hu (also general secretary of
the CCP) canceled a key party meeting at the seaside resort town of
Beidaihe. It was praised as a "populist move for good government",
but observers also saw it as an effort to avoid a showdown with the
Jiang Zemin faction before he had consolidated his own gains.
Jiang stifles talk of political reform
But it was not to be. By late summer 2003, Jiang et al had returned
to Beijing, and the wraps were thrown back on talk of "political
reform", the media were lashed down, and the pro-Jiang propaganda
minister warned senior editors and media executives that "some
people have used SARS to advocate for ... independent media and the
West's so-called democracy and separation of powers".  Duly
cowed, the media returned meekly to the control of the Jiang
faction, and remain there to this day.
But media freedom and political reform aren't the only areas where
President Hu and Premier Wen have displayed their reformist
credentials against the Shanghai faction's hard line. The Hu-Wen
line on national security and foreign policy is moderate, peaceful
and progressive. The Jiang line, crafted by his top political
strategist Zeng Qinghong (also the country's vice president),
stresses a rapid military buildup, stamping out democracy in Hong
Kong and the use of force against Taiwan. During the July 2003
political crisis in Hong Kong over efforts to pass draconian
anti-treason legislation that would have subjected Hong Kong's
media to vague Chinese laws on revealing "state secrets", President
Hu's faction told Hong Kong politicians that they had "no views
about the content or the timing of the legislation", while Jiang's
propaganda czar demanded that the laws be passed "on time and as
written".  To avoid further missed signals to the Hong Kong body
politic, Zeng was put firmly in charge of Hong Kong policy,  and
thenceforth democrats in Hong Kong were labeled "traitors".
Political discourse in Hong Kong has been considerably chilled in
the intervening year. Media commentators have been threatened,
democratic activists have been threatened with death, pro-democracy
politicians are denied visas to China (or, if they get them, they
are "discovered" consorting with mainland prostitutes and thrown in
jail).  Comparing the "two lines" on Hong Kong, one can see a
bright line separating the moderates on the Hu-Wen side from the
totalitarians on the Jiang-Zeng side.
Nowhere is this clearer than the ongoing debate about what is
called "China's peaceful rise". Last November, President Hu's
senior foreign-policy idea man, Zheng Bijian, delivered a speech to
an international gathering in Bo'ao, Hainan, in which he outlined a
vision of China and Asia "rising together" in peace and prosperity
in an era of economic globalization.  Zheng had headed the
Central Party School when Hu was still China's vice president (and
the ex-officio president of the Party School), but he now heads a
think-tank associated with Hu called the "Reform and Opening
Premier Wen Jiabao introduced US audiences to the concept of
China's "peaceful rise" at Harvard University last December 10.
 The premier explained that China "must more fully and more
consciously depend on our own structural innovation, on constantly
expanding the domestic market, on converting the huge savings of
our citizens into investment, and on improving the quality of the
population and scientific and technological progress to solve the
problems of resources and the environment". This wholly economic
focus of China's development strategy, he said, was "the essence of
China's relative peaceful rise and development".
'Peaceful rise' first championed by Hu
President Hu took the phrase as his own in a speech marking
Chairman Mao's 110th birthday last December, and again in February
at a "collective study session" held for the CCP's Politburo. In
April, another pro-Hu scholar published a lengthy theoretical
discourse on "China's Choice of a Peaceful Rise and its Strategic
Conceptualization".  Ironically, the article filled a page in
Shanghai's Liberation Daily newspaper and outlined a dramatic
vision of a China that cooperates with its neighbors in Asia and
the world on environmental, health, resource and energy matters,
and would coordinate its own rapid economic growth with the needs
of its neighbors to avoid drastic dislocations. A focus on making
China's economy interdependent with its neighbors, rather than
eclipsing them, was the centerpiece of this "Strategic Concept".
And it even advocated the revaluation of China's currency to make
imports from neighboring countries more attractive in China's
More startling was the article's caution against military
adventurism. It looked back to the rise of pre-World War II Japan
and Germany and to the Cold War Soviet Union and said China's
neighbors saw similar developments in China. "To be frank," the
writer added, "these kinds of concerns are not wholly
unreasonable." He cautioned that "with military moves, one can be
victorious for a time, but they cannot bring an extended period of
security". Nowhere in the lengthy commentary was the word "Taiwan"
But this was too much for the Jiang Zemin faction. From that point
on, "peaceful rise" was a phrase the faction could not abide.
Chinese officials have told this writer that Jiang himself gave
orders in mid-May that "peaceful rise" was either to be redefined
or simply dropped altogether.
But by that time, "peaceful rise" had become so embedded in the
CCP's lexicon that the only option was to redefine it. Through July
and August, President Hu's "strategic concept" of a "peaceful rise"
was gutted, and its innards were replaced with distinctly warlike
rhetoric. Not surprisingly, military commentators explained that no
country can have peace without a strong military. 
This view was finally ordained as policy in an article last
Wednesday that appeared in the official organ of the Central Party
School, now under the control of Vice President Zeng Qinghong,
Jiang's ally. In a provocative commentary titled "Is China's
peaceful rise possible?" the authors begin by saying, "There are
two arguments against the idea: one is the Taiwan question, and the
other is relations with the United States."  No one should
think, it said, that "peaceful rise" means China cannot "take the
matter of China's resolution of the Taiwan Question by force as a
last resort", because "to carry out the unification of Taiwan by
force of arms is a legitimate right" and a "sacred mission". The
authors continued, "Even less can you confound black and white, and
say something like China is threatening the 'security' of some
people, challenging some people's 'peace'."
Further, the article said, if foreign countries (read: the United
States) challenge "China's unification" and its "one China"
principle, "then those strong nations will be interfering in
China's internal affairs, and destroying China's peaceful rise, and
this absolutely is not a question of whether China is rising
peacefully or not".
For Jiang, Taiwan a big exception to 'peaceful rise'
The Central Party School commentary concludes that it is fortunate
"Americans regard getting involved in wars ... especially getting
involved in foreign wars that are unjust, all as something that
[should] be done very carefully", because this is a "basic
restraint on the American government's decisions to go to war". For
the Jiang faction, Taiwan is a very big exception to "peaceful
rise". Americans see democratic Taiwan as a part of communist China
in the same way that Chechnya is part of the Russian Federation,
and hence understand China's legitimate (indeed "sacred") right to
invade it, the commentary argued. The American people will oppose
their government's efforts to engage in such an "unjust" war
against China, it said. This truly is a dangerous assumption.
Japan, it seems, is another big exception to the "peaceful rise"
concept. At the end of June, Georgetown University Professor Robert
Sutter wrote that "Chinese officials and specialists also admit
that Japan poses a special problem for China's peaceful and
moderate approach to Asia".  And given China's renewed
historical claims on the ancient Korean kingdom of Koguryo, it
doesn't seem that "peaceful rise" is necessarily a key component of
Beijing's relations with Seoul. 
Despite the harsh and persistent propaganda attacks on the United
States and its support for Taiwan, some Western reporters persist
in the fiction that Jiang emphasizes "the relatively cordial
relationship he built with the United States in the late 1990s", as
opposed to President Hu's supposed Europhilia.  Quite the
opposite is true. As the Central Party School article shows, in
inner councils Jiang's attacks on the US are a staple of his new
"army first" policy that sets military modernization as the key to
a paramount task of "unifying the motherland".
If anything, Jiang argues that his hardline stance on Taiwan has
intimidated Washington, and hence that his US policy has been
successful. At the highest levels of China's leadership, Jiang has
won the debate over China's "peaceful rise", and it is an ominous
sign for the United States and its democratic friends and allies in
1. For an insightful analysis of the new primacy of military
needs, see Peng Zhiping, Qiang bing zai fu guo? Zhonggong tiaozheng jianjun
fangzhen (Strengthen the army and then enrich the nation? The
Chinese communists adjust their army building guidelines), Taipei,
China Times, July 26. Peng, however, attributes this new
policy direction to Hu Jintao. Arthur Waldron and I see it as Jiang
Zemin's. See Arthur Waldron and John J Tkacik Jr, China's power struggle, Asian Wall Street
Journal, August 13, p A-11.
2. Willy Lam, Crises chisel at the PLA's credibility,
Jamestown Foundation, China Brief, Volume 3, Issue 10, May 20,
3. Surprisingly, as of last Saturday, this news still appeared on
the People's Daily website as Beijing SARS baofaxing manyan, shimin bei yanli
xianzhi li jing, Jiang Zemin Huang Ju tiaowang Shanghai
(Beijing SARS epidemic slows, urban residents strictly limited in
departing city, Jiang Zemin and Huang Ju flee to Shanghai),
People's Daily, April 26, 2003. See also Tang Qing, Jiang Zemin 'flees to Shanghai': Internetters
bombard Jiang and his cast for being 'ignominious', Association
for Asian Research (AFAR), May 4, 2003. Tang cites e-mails on the
Beijing university students Internet news page. However, I have not been able to
locate these postings on the Beijing University site. Also see praise for Premier Wen Jiabao and Vice Premier
Wu Yi for their solidarity with students during the SARS
4. Several foreign correspondents in Beijing reported this; for
example, see John Pomfret, Outbreak gave China's Hu an opening, president
responded to pressure inside and outside country on SARS,
Washington Post, May 13, 2003, p A01. See also James Kynge, "China
sets up secret review of constitution", London, Financial Times.
June 12, 2003, p A-3. But they were disappointed when Hu was unable
to deliver. See Joseph Kahn, China's leader gives no sign of changes to
come, New York Times, July 2, 2003, p A3.
5. Li Qing, Jiang Yanyong: Renmin liyi gao yu
yiqie (Jiang Yanyong: The interests of the people is supreme
over all), Beijing, Shenghuo Zhoukan (Lifeweek magazine), July 29,
6. For a full discussion, see John Tkacik, China's power struggle by the sea, Asia Times
Online, August 20.
7. Charles Hutzler, Beijing strives to match changing nation's
pace, Wall Street Journal, October 20, 2003.
8. See Zheng Hanliang, 23 tiao zenma xiu, zhongyang liangtiao luxian?
(How to revise Article 23, are there two lines at the center?),
Taipei China Times Online, July 7, 2003. One report said that
pro-China Executive Council member James Tien met with United Front
Work Department chief Liu Yandong, "a known protege of President Hu
Jintao" (see Wong Kwok Wah, HK leader loses the mandate of heaven, Asia
Times Online, July 9, 2003). "Mr Tien flew back to Hong Kong from
Beijing saying two senior Chinese officials had told him that Hong
Kong was free to decide the timetable and content of the security
legislation on its own" (see Keith Bradsher, Hong Kong delays security bill after cabinet
member quits, New York Times, July 7, p A-2).
9. Cannix Yau, "Zeng Qinghong in charge of HK affairs, Beijing
leaders appear united", Hong Kong, The Standard, March 22. See also
War of words over Martin Lee's trip to US
intensifying, Taipei Times, March 9, p 5.
10. The term "traitor" was used universally by China's allies in
Hong Kong against democracy activists, leaving the impression that
the term is officially sanctioned by Beijing. See Crowd harasses HK opposition lawmaker, calls her
traitor, Associated Press, July 12; Alexandra Harney and Mure
Dickie, "HK democracy leader shows faith in China", Financial
Times, March 8; HK braces for march attacking China's stance on
democracy, Associated Press, June 30. China was far from
embarrassed at this, and in fact began to charge that democracy
activists were "virtually accusing" Hong Kong businessmen "of being
traitors ready to sell out Hong Kong's future in exchange for
investment interests on the mainland". See You Nuo, "Clamour of
radical politicians a disservice to SAR", China Daily, May
11. See, among others, Albert Cheng, "Dwindling freedom of
speech", South China Morning Post, May 17; Revealed: How the radio hosts were intimidated,
Hong Kong Spike, July 9-15, pp 6-7; Keith Bradsher, Democracy supporters march in Hong Kong, New
York Times, May 31; Keith Bradsher, 3rd radio host quits, citing China pressure,
New York Times, May 20.
12. Lai Jinhong, "Dalu xin zhanlue, heping jueqi, xiaomi Zhongguo
weixielun, Hu Jintao xialing qian zhongyang dangxiao fuxiaozhang
Zheng Bijian dialing Banzi quanli 'da zao'" (PRC's new strategy,
peaceful rise, antidote to the China threat theory, Hu Jintao
orders former Central Party School vice president Zheng Bijiang to
lead group to craft theory), New York, World Journal (in Chinese),
December 16, 2003, p 2. See also Peaceful rise: Even when China is trying hard to be
conciliatory, it scares its neighbours, London, The Economist,
13. See text of speech by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao at Harvard
University, Remarks of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, 'Turning
your eyes to China' Harvard University, December 10,
14. Huang Renwei, Zhongguo heping jueqide daolu xuanze he zhanlue
guannian, Shanghai Jiefang Ribao (Liberation Daily), April 26,
posted on at the People's Daily Internet site.
15. PLA Senior Colonel Zhang Yusheng posits that a strong military
is a prerequisite to a "peaceful rise" - the stronger the better.
"Ever since ancient times, human society exhibited only a single
phenomenon, and that is that when the army is stronger, warfighting
is less. 'Building an Army' not only 'wins wars' but it can 'stop
wars'. In an era of globalization, informationization,
pluralization, this postulate is only more relevant. As such,
insofar as a major country that seeks a 'peaceful rise' is
concerned, training and army or not, whether the army is trained
more or less, the conclusion is self-evident." His and other
commentaries by senior PLA generals were posted on the People's Daily website on the eve of the August
1, Army Day.
16. Chen Xiankui and Xin Xiangyang, Zhongguo heping jueqi shifo keneng? (Is China's
peaceful rise possible, or not?), Beijing, Xuexi Shibao (Study
Times), posted September 2.
17. Robert Sutter, China's peaceful rise and US interests in Asia -
status and outlook, CSIS Pacific Forum, PacNet 27, June
18. China's Propaganda Ministry shut down two Chinese-language
Korean websites that reported the lack of Chinese media coverage to
Politburo member Jia Qinglin's verbal commitments to the South
Korean government on the Koguryo controversy. See Bitan Gaojuli, Liang Hanguo Wangzhan Guanbi
(Ban on talk of Koguryo: Two South Korean websites closed), Taipei
China Times, August 30.
19. See, among others, Joseph Kahn, China's 2 top leaders square off in contest to run
policy, New York Times, September 2, p 3.
John J Tkacik Jr is a research fellow in Asian Studies
at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC. He is a retired
officer in the US Foreign Service who served in Taipei, Beijing,
Hong Kong and Guangzhou and was chief of the China Division in the
State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research.
First appeared in The Asia Times
The power struggle in Beijing between China's military strongman, Jiang Zemin, and the country's two reformist government leaders.
John J. Tkacik, Jr.
Senior Research Fellow
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