- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 9, 2003

China's annual two-week meeting of its parliament, the National People's Congress, convened last week in Beijing to rubber-stamp governmental changes that Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders arranged before November's Party Congress. At that time, it was clear that the omnipotent CCP and China's subservient government would be undergoing their largest leadership changeovers since the late Deng Xiaoping consolidated his power in the aftermath of the tumult that followed the 1976 death of Mao Zedong. However, just as Deng achieved his status as China's paramount leader by securing the chairmanships of the party and state Central Military Commissions (CMC), today it is equally clear that outgoing president and former party chief Jiang Zemin will remain China's paramount leader by retaining his chairmanships of the CMCs as well.
Like his CMC predecessors, Mr. Jiang serves as the de facto supreme commander of China's 2.5 million-member military. Make no mistake about it: In the political dictatorship that is communist China, that counts for a lot, especially in the aftermath of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, which precipitated Mr. Jiang's rise to power.
After replacing the 76-year-old Mr. Jiang as the party's general-secretary in November, 60-year-old Hu Jintao will repeat the feat at the governmental level when he replaces Mr. Jiang as president at the end of the Congress' session. Interestingly, despite all the power Mr. Jiang was able to accumulate since Deng brought him to Beijing in 1989 from Shanghai, it was Deng (who died six years ago) who hand-picked Mr. Hu to be Mr. Jiang's successor as party chief and president. Unable to block Mr. Hu's Deng-generated momentum, Mr. Jiang accomplished the next best thing: Before relinquishing his role as party chief, Mr. Jiang packed the party's ruling Standing Committee of the Politburo with his allies. Mr. Jiang even managed to amend the party's constitution to incorporate his crackpot "Three Represents" theory, mimicking the earlier constitutional enshrinement of the "Deng Xiaoping Theory" of socialism and "Mao Zedong Thought."
Other changes are also in the works. Wen Jiabao, a longtime protege of outgoing Prime Minister Zhu Rongji and an ally of Mr. Jiang, will likely succeed Mr. Zhu. Li Peng, the hard-line prime minister during the People's Liberation Army's murderous assault upon the student demonstrators in Tiananmen in June 1989, later became chairman of the National People's Congress. Mr. Li will also be replaced at this session.
If the not-too-distant past is any guide and it surely is efforts by Mr. Hu to consolidate his power or to embark on a program of major political reform will undoubtedly be met with strong-armed resistance by Mr. Jiang and his well-placed allies. Coupled with Mr. Hu's ascension to party chief, Mr. Jiang's retention of his position as supreme commander of the armed forces marks the first time since the late 1980s that the Communist Party split those roles. Then, Zhao Ziyang was party chief, having replaced the liberal Hu Yaobang, whom Deng purged in early 1987. (Hu Yaobang was accused of committing "mistakes on major issues of political principles.")
It was Hu's death in April 1989 that initiated the student protests in Tiananmen Square, where they erected a 100-foot replica of the Statue of Liberty. Those protests led to a hunger strike and demands for the resignations of Messrs. Deng and Li. The students ended their hunger strike at the request of Mr. Zhao, whom party hard-liners rightly suspected of harboring sympathy for the students' demands for Soviet-style glasnost. Martial law was declared, and 300,000 soldiers descended on Beijing for the armed assault in early June.
Because Mr. Zhao balked at using the armed forces against the students, Deng removed him from all his party posts; put him under house arrest; and accused him of conspiracy to overthrow the Communist Party, which he led. Deng then brought in Messrs. Jiang and Zhu from Shanghai.
In November 1989, Deng resigned from the chairmanship of the party's Central Military Commission and he left the largely ceremonial role as head of the state's CMC. Mr. Jiang succeeded him in both positions, becoming only the fourth chairman of the CMCs.
It appears that Mr. Jiang intends to remain in those positions for the foreseeable future. From his powerful perch as the leader of the armed forces, he will no doubt keep a close watch on Hu Jintao, whose recollection of the political fates of Hu Yaobang and Mr. Zhao will likely serve as a formidable brake on any instincts that he might have for major political reform. Even if Mr. Jiang relinquishes his CMC posts, it would still be possible as Deng demonstrated during the first half of the 1990s for him to exercise much power without any official title.
As the transfer of power continues to follow a Machiavellian path, Chinese communism endures, continuing to deny basic human and political rights to 1.2 billion people.

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