- The Washington Times - Monday, August 26, 2002

BEIJING China's Communist Party yesterday set a Nov. 8 date for the national congress in which it will choose a new generation of leaders, ensuring that President Jiang Zemin will still hold all his titles when he visits the United States in October.
The announcement of the long-awaited 16th National Party Congress comes after months of speculation about dates and rumors of feuding about succession.
The party congress is expected to see the first steps in the passing of power from Mr. Jiang, the president and party secretary, to China's vice president, Hu Jintao.
The gathering will elect a new Central Committee for the party, Xinhua news agency said. It will also elect members for an influential body to punish corruption and other ills. Most of the top members of the Central Committee are expected to step down. They are likely to be replaced by younger men.
The Communist Party's Political Bureau suggested the Nov. 8 date, which must be approved by the governing Central Committee. But it was unlikely that the date would change, because such important decisions typically are set by consensus after long, private discussions. Such congresses, held every five years, can run anywhere from a few days to two weeks or longer.
Preparations for the congress reportedly have been complicated by last-minute bargaining about the succession with many seeing Mr. Jiang as trying to maintain his influence even after he hands over power.
According to diplomats, the party congress had been scheduled for September but was pushed back, possibly because of the jockeying for position.
The Nov. 8 date also means Mr. Jiang still will be president, party secretary-general and head of key party and state military commissions when he visits North America in late October.
He is due to visit President Bush at his Crawford, Texas, ranch on Oct. 25 and attend a meeting of Asian-Pacific leaders in Mexico before returning for the congress.
The leadership's stony silence in the past weeks on the succession has fueled speculation about disputes.
The 76-year-old Mr. Jiang is expected to hand over to Mr. Hu, 59, the post of party secretary-general. Next spring, at the annual meeting of China's parliament, he is expected to step down from the presidency, which will then go to Mr. Hu.
But before that happens, the party congress in November appears ready to cement Mr. Jiang's legacy.
Xinhua said the congress will sum up work done during the past five years and "comprehensively carry out the important thoughts of 'Three Represents'" the political theory of party modernization that Mr. Jiang is believed to want written into the party's constitution.
The theory lays down three messages: the Communist Party has to keep up with modern China, embrace the new economic and professional elite, and offer membership to the very entrepreneurs that it once reviled.
Giving it the party stamp would put Mr. Jiang on an ideological par with former leader Deng Xiaoping and Mao Tse-tung, the founder of communist China.

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