- The Washington Times - Monday, March 17, 2003

BEIJING China announced a new leadership yesterday after weekend "elections," but it was still not clear who was truly in charge of the world's most populous country and its precious U.N. Security Council veto.
The election of Wen Jiabao, No.3 in the Communist Party hierarchy, as prime minister concluded a weekend of voting by the rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress.
Hu Jintao, the party leader, became president on Saturday, adding the top state job to the party leadership he won last November. By rights he should now take over as undisputed ruler of China from Jiang Zemin, his predecessor in both posts, in what has been repeatedly touted as the first smooth transition of power since China's days as a crumbling empire a century ago.
But Mr. Jiang retained the one job for which he was constitutionally eligible, head of the military, leaving President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair to wonder who will pick up the phone the next time they call Beijing.
As chairman of the state central military commission, Mr. Jiang still holds the position, with its command over national security issues, occupied by Deng Xiaoping when as "paramount leader" he sacked the then-party boss and ordered the crushing of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.
In a second telling signal this weekend, Mr. Jiang's chief aide and fixer, Zeng Qinghong, was elected deputy president. The new president, whose ascent has been marked by a reluctance to adopt controversial positions, now finds himself encircled by Jiang cronies who owe him no personal loyalty.
Mr. Hu was singled out a decade ago by Mr. Deng as the so-called core of the fourth generation of leadership Mao Tse-Tung, Mr. Deng and Mr. Jiang being foremost in the first three and his main achievement since is to be the first designated successor to secure the top job since the start of Communist rule in 1949. Others have been killed, purged or merely eclipsed.
Some diplomats and analysts suggest that Mr. Jiang's continuing sway is limited to military and foreign affairs and is a sign of how carefully the transition is being managed. The new leadership has little experience of international relations, whereas Mr. Jiang has transformed China's key foreign relationship with the United States.
Mr. Jiang, they say, will slowly recede into the background, allowing Mr. Hu to take more prominence. "The peaceful, voluntary handover of power is still a remarkable achievement," said one diplomat.
But skeptics look at Mr. Jiang's title and point to Mao's mantra that power comes from the barrel of a gun. Observers believe that world leaders will keep the lines open to Mr. Jiang.
"My bet is that the White House will keep two hot lines, one to Hu and one to Jiang," said Steve Tsang, a lecturer in politics at St Antony's College, Oxford. "The one to Jiang will be the real thing and the one which the White House will use first until the power balance changes."
The new leadership's photographs were published by Xinhua, the state news agency, alongside the results. Mr. Jiang's was in pole position, followed by Mr. Hu and then Mr. Zeng.

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