September 21, 2004
By John J. Tkacik, Jr.
Sunday's full transition of power to Chinese President Hu Jintao
-- who finally replaced Jiang Zemin as head of the military -- was
eagerly anticipated in the West. For over 20 years, Mr. Hu has
enjoyed a widespread reputation as a moderate reformist. But to get
his latest promotion, Mr. Hu struck a devil's bargain with Mr.
Jiang that will dim the prospects for political reform.
For 78-year-old Mr. Jiang, the new arrangement is a sweet one.
In his new position as retired senior statesman, he is now formally
ensconced, incongruous as it may seem, in the Communist Party
pantheon as the co-equal of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.
And Mr. Jiang's "profound contribution" to socialist theory, the
so-called 'Important Thought of the 'Three Represents'" -- Mr.
Jiang's doctrine that says the party must represent entrepreneurs,
scientists and cultural figures, not just the proletariat and
peasants -- is enshrined as a canonical text. It is now up there
with "Marxism-Leninism," "Mao Zedong Thought," and "Deng Xiaoping
In return, Mr. Hu gets to take over Mr. Jiang's powerful
military position. But it is unlikely that this promotion will have
much of a policy impact. Mr. Hu's Faustian bargain with Mr. Jiang
means that he has accepted the program set by his predecessor and
by Mr. Jiang's right-hand man, Vice President Zeng Qinghong.
Mr. Zeng's failure to be appointed to the Chinese Military
Commission in this latest reshuffle has been welcome as a reason to
hope for a more moderate foreign policy. As recently as last month,
Mr. Zeng was consolidating his position at the center of Mr.
Jiang's "Shanghai faction," whose members were known by their
bellicose rhetoric toward Taiwan, not to mention opposition to both
democracy in Hong Kong as well as to America's global
But the significance of Mr. Zeng's absence from the CMC may be
overstated. Mr. Jiang didn't push for the elevation of his
right-hand man to vice chairman of the CMC because the promotion of
the unpopular Mr. Zeng would likely have sparked resistance by
members of the Communist Party's Central Committee. Instead, Mr.
Jiang did the next best thing: He packed the CMC with four
additional generals -- all loyal to him and Mr. Zeng -- and
promoted another confidant of the shadowy vice president's into a
This new arrangement will be a mirror image of Mr. Hu's weak
positions in the Politburo and the State Council. As much as half
the Politburo owes its fealty to the Shanghai faction -- not to Mr.
Hu -- as do most of the State Councilors and ministers.
In the two years since Mr. Hu's appointment as Communist Party
chief he has seen his moderate policies often undercut by allies of
Mr. Zeng, and this is likely to continue under the new arrangement.
This means that there will be no political or foreign-policy
reform, slowing of the military buildup, moderation on Hong Kong or
easing in the Taiwan rhetoric.
Examples of how Mr. Hu was thwarted abound. At the height of the
democratization debate in Hong Kong last year, a local Hong Kong
politician remarked that Mr. Hu's people said Beijing had no
opinion on the substance or timing of a set of draconian national
security laws that the Jiang-picked leader of Hong Kong was trying
to pass, according to the New York Times. But Mr. Zeng's propaganda
department demanded that the bills be passed on time, and as
written, the Washington Post later reported.
Last year, Mr. Hu encouraged an emissary of the Dalai Lama to
visit Beijing, and members of the Tibetan exile community were
cautiously optimistic that under Mr. Hu China's hard line was
softening up a bit. But again the president was immediately
undercut by Mr. Zeng's allies in the foreign ministry, who
pressured Nepal to deport 18 young Tibetan dissidents to China for
And when Mr. Hu's policy advisers crafted a new doctrine of
China's "peaceful rise," Mr. Zeng's minions listed "two arguments
against the idea: one is the Taiwan question, and the other is
relations with the United States," according to an article in the
Central Party School newspaper "Study Times." In the end, Jiang
Zemin decreed that the "peaceful rise" concept was weak and should
be replaced by something less wimpish.
On the other hand, when Mr. Hu was allowed to rule without
Shanghainese supervision, he was finally able to exert some
influence. When Mr. Jiang, Mr. Zeng and others of the Shanghai
faction evacuated Beijing and left Mr. Hu in charge during the SARS
epidemic in 2003, Mr. Hu allowed the media to report on the issue
more freely, and even encouraged praise of Jiang Yanyong, the
retired Chinese army surgeon who blew the whistle on the cover-up
of hundreds of secret SARS cases in military hospitals.
And relaxation of press restraints was not confined to SARS. In
May, Mr. Hu ordered the publication of news about a disaster on a
naval submarine that killed over 70 sailors. Many questioned
whether Mr. Hu wanted to discredit the military's top leaders.
But now it appears that Mr. Hu's push for political reform has
morphed into strengthening the Party's governance capacity. Indeed,
his recent speeches and statements avoid taking a stand on anything
even slightly heterodox.
When Mr. Hu was named party boss in November 2002, he pledged he
would seek instruction and listen to the views of Mr. Jiang "on
important matters." No doubt this pledge was reconfirmed last week.
Unless domestic unrest boils over into widespread protests, or
China's increasingly assertive foreign policy generates a
significant backlash from either its Asian neighbors or the U.S.,
Mr. Hu can exert no pressure for political reform. The terms of
Sunday's Faustian bargain will mean that "the era of Hu Jintao"
can't yet begin.
Mr. Tkacik, a research fellow at the Heritage
Foundation in Washington, D.C., is a retired officer in
the U.S. foreign service who served in Beijing, Guangzhou, Hong
Kong and Taipei.
First appeared in The Wall Street Journal
Sunday's full transition of power to Chinese President Hu Jintao -- who finally replaced Jiang Zemin as head of the military -- was eagerly anticipated in the West.
John J. Tkacik, Jr.
Senior Research Fellow
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