- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 8, 2002

A high-stakes corruption trial nearing a climax in a Beijing courtroom offers a small window into the hardball politics at play as China struggles to manage the transition of power to a new generation of leaders.

A verdict is expected soon in the case of Zhu Xiaohua, a protege of departing Prime Minister Zhu Rongji and the ousted head of the state-owned China Everbright Group, a giant financial company whose assets included the countrys sixth-largest bank.

Chinese President Jiang Zemin, a rival of the prime ministers, systematically has exploited Zhu Xiaohuas case, writer and longtime China watcher Sheng Xue said in an analysis supplied to The Washington Times. Other analysts say Mr. Jiang is waging a fierce backroom campaign to hold onto power as the country prepares for a critical Communist Party Congress that convenes Nov. 8.

"Jiang is carefully orchestrating the timing of Zhu Xiaohuas case to create a flash point and win an advantage over Premier Zhus ability to succeed in the partys 16th Congress," Ms. Sheng noted.

She said the 3-year-old bribery and corruption case is nearing a verdict because Mr. Jiang is seeking to "contain" the prime minister and others who might object to his efforts to hang onto his top posts in the military, the Communist Party and the government.

"In some sense, Zhu Xiaohuas fate depends on who wins the power struggle in the 16th Congress," she said.

Zhu Xiaohua, 53, who rode Zhu Rongjis patronage to top posts in the Central Bank and Foreign Exchange Administration, has been subjected to harsh treatment by authorities since his detention and first interrogation in July 1999.

Even before his formal arrest in May 2001, Mr. Zhus wife, Ren Peizhen, committed suicide in Chicago, where she had fled to avoid detention, and his daughter, Zhu Yun, suffered a nervous breakdown. Mr. Zhu was held incommunicado and did not learn of his wifes death until months later, Ms. Sheng reported.

Charged with accepting bribes and secret personal loans from Everbright clients and colleagues, Mr. Zhu saw his original November 2001 trial date postponed three times, and he and his attorneys were forced to attend a "training session" on how to cooperate with prosecutors just 12 days before his case was finally heard Aug. 20.

Less than a week before the trial, Mr. Zhu was expelled from the Communist Party, with the official Xinhua news agency denouncing his actions as "absolutely vile."

Mr. Zhu refused to cooperate with prosecutors, denying his guilt in a daylong trial in which the prosecution based its case on the written testimony of witnesses who were not present in the courtroom.

Unusually for such a trial, the judge has yet to announce a verdict in the case, although official corruption cases of a similar magnitude in China in the recent past have resulted in death sentences.

Given the countrys opaque politics and the murky transition period, China watchers often look to politically charged prosecutions, news media appearances, leadership vacation plans and other clues to who is up and who is down.

Given Chinas go-go economy and the heavy state involvement in the private sector, corruption trials often have been used as proxy battles by Chinas top leaders, Ms. Sheng said.

Corruption "is so rampant that if you pick up anyone from any rank of the party or government office, you would have a 90 percent chance of finding a case," she wrote.

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