- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 13, 2002

More than 2,000 delegates representing the 65 million members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) convened in Beijing last Friday for the 16th Party Congress. A new Central Committee, comprising about 200 voting members, will be appointed for the ritualistic purpose of rubber-stamping the ruling Politburo, which currently includes 21 members. Seven of the 21 occupy positions on the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, which actually runs China on a day-to-day basis.

Nobody outside China's extremely secretive ruling circle knows who, or how many, those Standing Committee members will be. In fact, commencing with the extraordinary leaking in late 2000 of internal party documents describing senior officials' decisions that led to the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, intense infighting and maneuvering over the power succession have been ongoing in Beijing.

CCP General-Secretary Jiang Zemin, following an apparently unsuccessful last-ditch effort during the summer to retain the official trappings of power, is expected to retire as party chief, a position he has held since the 1989 sacking of Zhao Ziyang in the wake of the massacre. Prime Minister Zhu Rongji, a member of Mr. Jiang's Shanghai Mafia, is expected to retire in March at the annual session of the nominal legislature, the National People's Congress (NPC). There, NPC Chairman Li Peng is also expected to retire. At the March confab, Mr. Jiang is expected to relinquish the presidency as well. Mr. Li, it's worth recalling, replaced Mr. Zhao as premier in 1988 and later carried out the June 1989 orders of Deng Xiaoping to violently clear Tiananmen Square of the thousands of student protesters, who had erected a replica of the Statue of Liberty.

Vice President Hu Jintao, by all accounts an uninspiring, colorless former engineer and current bureaucrat, is expected to be named the new general-secretary. In March, he will likely assume the mostly ceremonial role as president. Reminiscent of the bloody role Nikita Khrushchev played in the Ukraine at Stalin's behest, Mr. Hu apparently caught the attention of Beijing's rulers as party chief in Tibet, where he imposed martial law in 1989 and brutally suppressed anti-Chinese protests.

One major question is whether Mr. Jiang will relinquish his powerful positions as chairman of the state Central Military Commission (CMC) and the party CMC, where he serves as the de facto boss of the People's Liberation Army (PLA). Mr. Hu currently serves as vice chairman of the CMCs.

However the CMC chairmanships play out, Mr. Jiang will certainly retain great influence. Even after Mr. Hu assumes the roles of president and party general-secretary, he will lack a power base of his own. Indeed, several of Mr. Hu's colleagues on the Politburo Standing Committee are likely to be proteges of Mr. Jiang, including a proficient Beijing infighter, Zeng Qinghong, who handles party personnel matters. Moreover, Mr. Hu isn't even Mr. Jiang's hand-picked successor. In 1992, Deng, who had relinquished the last of his official party and state positions two years earlier but continued to exert influence as China's "paramount leader" until he died in 1997, engineered Mr. Hu's promotion to the Standing Committee. Beyond competing with Mr. Jiang's proteges, Mr. Hu will also likely confront the personally designated replacements of Li and Zhu.

The analogy with Khrushchev extends only so far. With Messrs. Jiang, Li and Zhu all exerting influence to protect their legacies, especially the roles of Messrs. Jiang and Li in the Tiananmen massacre and its aftermath, Mr. Hu is unlikely to mimic Khrushchev's secret speech at the 1956 Soviet party congress denouncing his predecessor. Essentially the fourth successive party leader designated by Deng, Mr. Hu will also be unlikely to forget what happened to the first two.

Hu Yaobang, whom Deng appointed as general-secretary of the CCP and chairman the party's CMC in 1981, was forced out in 1987 following complaints of excessive "bourgeois liberalization." Mr. Deng booted Hu Yaobang's successor, Mr. Zhao, after the Tiananmen massacre, accusing him of conspiracy to overthrow the party. To this day, Mr. Zhao remains under house arrest. As for Hu Yaobang, well, it was the mourning of his death that precipitated the student demonstrations and the erection of the Statue of Liberty replica, both of which were crushed by the PLA under the direction of Li and Deng. It was that tragic event that led to Mr. Jiang's dramatic ascent to power, an immutable fact that will influence, as long as Mr. Jiang draws breath, any inclinations for political reform that Mr. Hu may have. For the 1.3 billion Chinese living under the Chinese Communist Party's political dictatorship, that, too, is a tragedy.

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