- The Washington Times - Monday, April 29, 2002

Official Washington is about to welcome Hu Jintao, 59, vice president of the People's Republic of China, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Chinese Communist Party and head of the Party School of Chinese Communist Party Central Committee.
If all goes according to the script at the Communist Party Congress this fall, Mr. Hu will become the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, replacing Jiang Zemin. Mr. Hu is expected to become president of China in spring 2003. When he will replace Mr. Jiang as chairman of the Central Military Commission is under discussion.
For a man who is expected to lead a quarter of the world's population, we know really very little. We do know that he is essentially a Communist Party apparatchik. When he graduated from hydraulic engineering school in 1964, he did not go off to do build dams. Instead he stayed on as a "political instructor" at his alma mater, in essence an academic political commissar.
Since then, he has spent most of his professional life in the bowels of the Chinese Communist Party. With responsibility for training future Communist Party cadres, Mr. Hu's prime role is ensuring that Communist Party rule continues unchallenged in China. Any one who is looking for a "closet liberal" should look elsewhere.
Although Mr. Hu has never worn a uniform, he ranks second in China's military hierarchy. When he assumed this position in September 1999, the International Institute for Strategic Studies estimated that China had 15 to 20 Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, all of which were type DF-5. Two years later, the IISS estimates that China has more than 20 ICBMs of the modernized version of the type DF-5, the DF-5A, as well as an operational brigade of the all-new DF-31 ICBM. It is reasonable to project, therefore, that substantially more American citizens are being targeted for nuclear holocaust under Mr. Hu's watch.
Certainly China's Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) had to have had the most significant impact on Mr. Hu's formative years. Mao Tse-tung turned rampaging, vicious mobs loose on Chinese intellectuals and the Communist Party. Everyone in the party who lived through those days, and not everyone did, would have been seared by the experience. For party workers, the Cultural Revolution certainly was definitive training in how to survive. Murder, intense suffering and above all, betrayal, characterized those "lost" 10 years. Some survived by becoming street fighters and gang leaders. Others learned how to manipulate the system and avoid the fallout. The psychological warfare and the psychological impact on the Chinese Communist Party were enormous.
The late 1980s were another period of political ferment in Tibet. After a series of pro-independence demonstrations, the party sent Mr. Hu to Lhasa as party secretary at the beginning of 1989. This led to the most mysterious incident involving Mr. Hu. In January, he went out of Lhasa to visit the Panchen Lama in the city of Shigatse. With the Dalai Lama in exile, the Panchen Lama was the highest-ranking religious authority in Tibet.
At a dinner meeting in Mr. Hu's honor, the Panchen Lama used the occasion to deliver a public excoriation of Chinese Communist rule in Tibet. Mr. Hu was stunned by this verbal attack and within a very few days, the Panchen Lama was dead. Rightly or wrongly, many Tibetans associate Mr. Hu with the Panchen Lama's unexpected passing.
Whatever the cause, the Panchen Lama's death created a political void in Tibet, which still exists 13 years later.
What is clear is Mr. Hu was substantially unnerved by his experience. Claiming "altitude sickness," he took off for Beijing and ruled Tibet from there for the next three years.
In an unguarded moment, Mr. Hu later told Dr. Jonathan Mirsky, a British newspaper correspondent, "how much he disliked Tibet's altitude, climate and lack of culture. He was keeping his family in Beijing and feared that if there were ever an uprising against the Chinese, no Tibetan would protect him."
It may be that Mr. Hu noticed a "lack of culture" in Tibet because Communist mobs had destroyed so much of it during the Cultural Revolution. He certainly was correct to assume that he or any other Communist Party secretary in Tibet should watch his back.
Shortly after the fateful dinner meeting with the Panchen Lama, new demonstrations broke out in Tibet. Without hesitation, on March 7, 1989, Mr. Hu declared martial law and called in the People's Liberation Army. A number of people were killed or tortured by Mr. Hu's paramilitary police, and some 25 political prisoners sentenced during his tenure remain locked up.
It should not come as a surprise that three months later Mr. Hu was the first provincial leader to send a congratulatory telegram to party leaders for massacring several thousand people in and around Tiananmen Square. It may be that Mr. Hu's willingness to use military force to back up Communist rule is what caused Deng Xiaoping to pick him as China's next ruler after Mr. Jiang.

William C. Triplett II, a defense specialist, is completing a book on Taiwan.

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